Look at James Crable‘s large-scale photographic works from a distance, and you might be fooled into thinking they’re quilts. Like quiltmakers, Crable seeks to meld a wide variety of basic images into a coherent whole.
In his current exhibition at D.C.’s Heurich Gallery, Crable, an emeritus professor at James Madison University, creates large matrices from individual photographs, many of them taken in the Washington area. Some of the matrices favorably echo the works by Michael A. Lang on display earlier this year at Touchstone Gallery.
The starting point for “Rockville Plaza, Rockville, Md.” (middle) is as bleak as it sounds: brutalist concrete stairs, trod by mirthless pedestrians in winter. But Crable redeems the images by arranging them so that the diagonals form a pleasing, interlocking web of chevrons.
“Bluestone Drive, James Madison University” captures students on a campus walkway. The overall arrangement suggests a photographic contact sheet, but the piece would have been more compelling had the artist used actual panoramic horizontal images rather than stitching together several to form each row.
Passers-by at a research hall at George Mason University are rendered in a series of squares that, with the addition of a few vintage celebrities, could pass for “Hollywood Squares” on steroids. By contrast, Crable’s more free-form rendition of beachgoers at the Atlantic City boardwalk surprisingly suggests some of Richard Avedon‘s panoramic group portraits, thanks to its white background and its seemingly slapdash arrangement of vertical figures.
While some of Crable’s works aren’t appreciably better than campus recruiting-brochure fare, a few stand out for threatening to break the fourth wall.
In “FDNY, South Street, New York, NY,” (top) the monotonous repetitions of the front facade of the fire station is broken when, for a glorious few frames, a fire engine pulls out straight toward the viewer.
And the artist’s depiction of people entering and exiting the front door at San Francisco City Hall (bottom) captures people at their most vulnerable—as they are figuring out how to open the door, as they juggle their purses and as they adjust to the sunlight or the darkness. Much like Beat Streuli‘s celebrated photographs of pedestrians captured unaware by his camera, Crable’s constructed image offers a brief, enigmatic look into the unguarded souls of the everyman.
The exhibition runs 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays through Sept. 9 at the Heurich Gallery, 505 9th St. NW.