It isn’t often you see a contemporary photographer paying homage to the grainy, soft-focused, and ethereal work of late 1800s/early 1900s pictorialists. But Anne-Lise Large, a French artist who has spent four years living in the United States, does—-though with a twist.

Much pictorialist work was idealized and sentimental in subject matter, but 

Large aims to make her art more solemn, portraying Americans who are poor, struggling or traveling the road of self-discovery.

Large’s photographs offer a distinctive, dreamy look, alternately lush and murky, with individual images dominated by a single, monochromatic hue of amber, yellow, blue or green. Her landscapes—-such as an elemental horizon with a blisteringly bright moon, or a tree backlit by a cloud-mottled sky (bottom)—-exude an understated beauty.

But while a few of her portraits succeed in suggesting subjects in the midst of adversity, such as the pale, out-of-focus young woman with soulful eyes and a downbeat expression in “Lost Angels #3,” Large’s efforts struggle more often than not.

Large’s highly stylized approach—-sometimes suggesting glamorous, high-concept advertising, and sometimes an antiquated, pre-Raphaelite look

—-obscures any message she tries to send about her modern subjects’ challenges. This problem is only made worse by the lack of any supplemental context about the people Large documents.

Ironically, the one portrait that succeeds most fully, “Lost Angels #7” (top), features a woman with a determined stare who seems to be standing amid flames—-a subject who could easily pass for a character in Les Miserables, that most French of stories.

The exhibit is on view 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays to Aug. 9 at the Art Museum of the Americas, 1889 F St., NW.