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TO MARCH 10
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The Michael Kenna exhibit at the Ralls Collection is titled “Night Work,” most likely because of the British-born photographer’s almost exclusively nocturnal approach to photography. But his calculated manipulation of available light makes it hard for the viewer to be sure when exactly the images were taken: Although the square prints (December Thaw, Gulf of Finland, Russia is pictured) are crisplyeven fastidiouslydefined, they often contain formless, moody mists and fogs, which, for the most part, communicate drama without veering into fantasy. Kenna’s imageswhich lack human subjectspay explicit homage to a number of artistic predecessors, including nighttime-Paris photographer Brassaï and British photographer Bill Brandt. Viewers may also detect echoes of Eugène Atget and Harry Callahan, as well as Bernd and Hilla Becher. Kenna’s architectural and garden images are skillful, but his finest works involve minimalist geometric formsfences on a beach, curved pool walls, a pavement chessboard, a straight line of stones disappearing into the horizon, even rows of books resting on a semilit bookcase. In the remarkable Fourteen Trees, Marbach, Austria, a row of distant lumber somehow mimics the shape of the puffy, elongated cloud drifting overhead. Just as impressive are a series of nuclear-power-plant photos, which underline how Kenna’s abstract compositions surpass his more literal works: Although some of his images of cooling towers could pass as anti-nuke propaganda, the decontextualized, light-and-dark geometrics of the towers’ curves in Ratcliffe Power Station, Study 33, Nottinghamshire, England, 1985 rise to the level of art. Kenna’s photos are on view from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday, to Saturday, March 10, at the Ralls Collection, 1516 31st St. NW. Free. (202) 342-1754. (Louis Jacobson)