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The three-photographer exhibit Fr(agile) at Carroll Square Gallery makes clear from the beginning that “fragile” doesn’t mean “weak.” “Rather, ‘fragile’ implies the potential for destruction, but persistence despite it,” the exhibit explains.
In varied ways, and to varying degrees of success, Carey Averbook, Michelle Frankfurter, and Tatiana Gulenkina—all women working in the D.C. area—use photography to communicate the notion of fragility.
Averbook documents members of the Bolivian community living in northern Virginia—a community that the artist says numbers 150,000, enough to rank as the ninth-largest city in Bolivia were everyone still located there. Averbook focuses on the connections between old and new—specifically the notion, shared by many of her subjects, that they are living here as if they were still in Bolivia, with all of their possessions intact.
While Averbook offers some fine images—including a portrait of a young woman and a couple dancing alone in traditional garb—the five photographs on display aren’t enough to really plumb her subjects’ otherwise intriguing philosophy. (The project also involves multimedia aspects not on display, which may provide more context.)
Frankfurter’s series is more well-developed, at least within the confines of exhibit. Using a traditional black-and-white documentary approach, Frankfurter follows Central American migrants as they journey through Mexico toward the United States.
This subject has been mined before, notably in the work of Los Angeles Times photographer Don Bartletti, who won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for it. But Frankfurter is a worthy successor.
Her images encapsulate the drive to help (among migrants struggling to stay balanced on top of a freight train), the persistence of affection (such as the man and woman embracing on top of another train), and the intensity of determination (embodied by one migrant hanging on tenaciously from the side of a boxcar). Frankfurter even offers an impressive abstraction, showing the sun as it glints off rails that head off into the horizon.
Gulenkina’s works, for her part, are all about abstraction—cameraless prints that capture the decay or organic matter, often in hues of blue, yellow and lavender. In her finest image—“Untited #11, Things Merging and Falling Apart”—a vaguely skull-shaped form is seemingly enveloped by a diaphanous, flame-shaped film.
In isolation, Gulenkina’s works would be more impressive. In this three-artist exhibit, the fragility of human lives has an immediacy that trumps that of inanimate biological films.
Through Nov. 22 at the Carroll Square Gallery, 975 F St. NW. Mon.-Fri. 8 a.m.-6 p.m.