D.C. photographer Frank Van Riper has been curating an annual exhibition of documentary photography called Mirror to the World for the past nine years at Glen Echo’s Photoworks gallery.
During that time, Van Riper has used the show to debut some 60 photographers, mostly from the D.C. area. This year’s exhibit, however, will be the last in the series. (He’ll continue teaching at Photoworks as well as pursuing other photographic pursuits in and out of the D.C. area.)
In this year’s selection, no single photographer’s work dominates, but as usual, the quality is strong across the board.
Valerie Makepeace offers images from “American Roadside Retro:” square images of decay and kitsch in the Mojave Desert, limned in a washed-out palette. Most perplexing is a window view situated in a barren room that, as it becomes clear upon close inspection, is actually a photograph of a window, rather than an actual window.
Several photographers documented their collective journey to Italy’s Civita di Bagnoregio, a 2,500-year-old Etruscan settlement that is slowly dying. The locale offers a ridiculously broad menu of photogenic options, but Gana Browning’s image is the most inspired, documenting the interior of a church lit by unusual shafts of light.
Fred Zafran contributes an eerie series titled, “A Stranger in My Room,” depicting ghostly figures and uneasy tableaux in a house that seems just a little too quiet. More appealing, although equally wistful, are exterior landscape images—a dusting of snow on brambles in one image, and in another, a white-and-red house on a hillside surrounded by delicate, bare branches.
The two strongest submissions are from Darrow Montgomery and Christine Pearl. (Red-siren disclosure: Montgomery is City Paper’s longtime photographer. And as long as we’re talking about disclosures, Van Riper, many years ago, was this reviewer’s wedding photographer.)
Montgomery’s images, which he aptly describes as an “accidental archive” of D.C.’s street scene, often find poetic quietude within the bustling city, such as the moody photograph of umbrella-wielding figures in the mist. Sometimes Montgomery finds subtle humor, as in an image of a well-dressed man walking along a sidewalk in front of a tractor-trailer decorated with an advertisement that features rubber-band balls. But the most compelling images are those with a bit of mystery, such as the one shot from the bottom of a Metro escalator and featuring a distant figure ending his ride with a seeming leap off the ground.
Pearl, meanwhile, offers a series of small, square, reflective, black-and-white images, a mix of portraits and landscapes. Smartly, she takes care to document basic shapes—circles from Ferris wheels and pipe mechanisms, triangles from teepees, semicircles from vehicular tunnels, and a hand holding several eggs. Seen side by side, these fundamental forms offer an unfussy visual feast.
Through May 14 at Glen Echo Photoworks, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo. (301) 634-2274. Sun.-Mon.: 1 p.m.–8 p.m., Sat.: 1 p.m.–4 p.m..