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Glen Echo Park is hosting a rare trio of photography exhibits, and each in their own way is unabashedly focused on the past. One exhibit offers familiar, but now long-antiquated, black-and-white photography, while the other two experiment with even more archaic techniques.
Barry Schmetter’s exhibit “Antiquarian Lens” (middle), showing in the Park View Gallery, reaches back to harness the tintype and ambrotype processes, which had their heyday in the 1800s. Oddly, despite the old-fashioned medium, Schmetter’s approach works most successfully with such (relatively) modern subject matter as transistors and the snaking surfaces of circuit boards.
Meanwhile, George L. Smyth, at the Stone Tower Gallery (bottom), has chosen to use the ridiculously complicated “bromoil” process, which entails repeated steps of bleaching, tanning, and re-inking. The resulting images are grainy, a style that stands out admirably in today’s HD-obsessed world.
Substantively, Smyth trains his lens on “extras” – people he doesn’t know but who populate his life and, if they were not there, would nonetheless be missed. Bromoil’s dreamy pointillism doesn’t work as well when documenting subjects that are clearly contemporary, but when the subjects become more distant and abstract, the foggy look becomes a clever approach. In one of the strongest images, a pedestrian in the median distance walks past a brick wall with three mounted flagpoles that cast sharply diagonal shadows in the bright sun.
The third exhibit—by Robb Hill at Photoworks (top)—exudes a similarly elegiac vibe. It consists of black-and-white images made with a sharply horizontal aspect ratio, all documenting changes being made upon the land. Hill writes that his work “began as a documentary project to record the land where I grew up (in Indiana) before big machines erased it.”
Some of Hill’s images are overly nostalgic (a horse in the fog, a nonplussed cow) and others have off-puttingly blocky arrangements. But Hill’s concern about machines having their way upon the land proves surprisingly fruitful for his art, with tracks created by vehicles becoming some of his most interesting textures.
In one image, the viewer’s eye is drawn to tank-style tracks in the glistening mud. In others, it’s a mixture of curved and straight tire tracks in the snow alongside train tracks, or the dusty, semicircular tracks of windshield wipers on a pickup truck. Each image expresses its own particular shade of wistfulness—and echoes that seen in the other two exhibits.
Schmetter runs through Oct. 17, Smyth runs through Oct. 25 and Hill runs through Oct. 18 at Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo, Md.