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TO FEB. 7
By day, Beth Beck works as a communications and outreach specialist in NASA’s office of policy and plans. In her own time, Beck’s relationship with the heavens takes on a distinctly more spiritual cast. She uses a primitive pinhole camera—essentially a box with a needle-sized hole that casts a small amount of light onto a sheet of black-and-white photographic paper—to capture images of churches, typically with their steeples rising crookedly into the sky. (Circle of Faith is pictured.) “My prayer,” she explains in her artist’s statement, “is that you will sense the presence of God in this room as you view these pinhole photographs of historic churches.” Maybe, maybe not—but even atheists should concur that Beck’s work is visually striking. Because her camera lacks a lens, shutter, and viewfinder, each shot must be constructed blindly and timed haphazardly. When transferred to textured paper, the resulting images are diverse—sometimes taking on a high-contrast starkness, at other times becoming ethereal, fish-eye swirls. Certain church facades sag and bulge in comical, Daliesque fashion, and trees and steeples appear to sway ever so slightly against a blank sky. In this showing, Beck may only have chronicled the tangible relics of establishment religions—well-weathered churches of mainline Protestant and Catholic denominations are her stock in trade—but her art molds them into something infinitely more mystical than just another Sunday sermon. On view from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, to Monday, Feb. 7, at the Art League Gallery, in the Torpedo Factory Art Center, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria. Free. (703) 683-1780. (Louis Jacobson)