Give Vince Lupo props for humility. In his artist’s statement, he acknowledges that he’s still “discovering” the spirit of the American West as he documents it in black-and-white photographs. At times, Lupo writes, “I see evidence of a fading past that I do not know, yet appearing more ‘authentic’ to me than the present.”
Lupo is a Toronto-born, Baltimore-based photographer. In his Leica Store DC exhibit, the portraits are meditative but somewhat clichéd, featuring rugged folks clad in cowboy gear and bearded wanderers standing along the highway. More interesting are the images in which Lupo makes use of his knack for finding chance tableaux in the landscape.
In one photograph that pairs elemental land and sky, Lupo balances a hollowed-out teepee at left and a waving American flag on the right, an admirably concise summation of the region’s painful history. In another image, Lupo captures unexpectedly strong sunlight glinting off a pair of diverging, rutted tracks that veer off into the distance.
His image of a tumbledown “cowboy church” is elevated by a ribbon of almost heavenly light that splits the middle distance. And in Lupo’s hands, a handsome-looking vintage car in a field is upstaged by a sky full of eerie, translucent clouds.
At times, Lupo’s photographs explore dark places. One shows a headless effigy hanging from a gate, labeled with a sign reading, “We do it the old way.” Another depicts a creepy puppet scene, with one figure pointing a gun.
Lupo’s finest images, though, show a lighter touch. In one, he documents a billboard in the late afternoon light; the billboard says simply, “Sundown.”
And in another, Lupo photographs the façade of the “Hope Vol. Fire Dept.,” focusing on two boarded up windows crowned by what appear to be rising plumes of smoke. But are they? The image echoes, visually and thematically, “McLean, Virginia, December 1978,” Joel Sternfeld’s iconic photograph of a firefighter shopping for pumpkins as a farmhouse behind him is engulfed in flames. In both images, the smoke rises to the left at identical 45-degree angles, and in both, the viewer wonders what part of the image is real and what is artifice.
At the Leica Store DC, 977 F St. (202) 787-5900. Sun 12 p.m.-5 p.m., Mon.-Wed. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Thurs.-Fri. 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-6 p.m.