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Frank Van Riper is well-known in the D.C. area for his writings on photography as well as his book of moody black-and-white photographs, Serenissima: Venice in Winter. (Van Riper is also considerably less well-known for photographing my wedding.) Now, Van Riper, a photography teacher at Glen Echo’s Photoworks studio, has curated the exhibition, “Mirror to the World: Documentary Photography 2013.”
A portion of the exhibit is devoted to work produced by amateur and semiprofessional photographers who accompanied Van Riper and Judith Goodman, his photographic partner and wife, to Venice in winter; their images are fine, but is it churlish to point out that they have an unreasonably high bar to meet? Meanwhile, Sonia Suter photographs kids of various ages, accompanied by verbatim snippets of their monologues about “Why I’m Unique”; the project is charming, but visually no-frills.
The remaining three artists make the strongest impressions. Michael Lang spent eight months hanging around drag queens in order to capture unguarded moments; he photographs the performers’ intensive efforts at preparation in black-and-white (middle) while capturing their on-stage personas in color, a transformation that cleverly (and perhaps fittingly) echoes the movie version of The Wizard of Oz. Christine Pearl, who like Lang has a disability that hampers the ability to walk, documents vanishing rural demolition-derby subculture (top), a project that is at once a worthy piece of social history and a visual feast, featuring billows of white smoke, showers of sparks, barrel-necked drivers, and impromptu celebrations—-punctuated with sledgehammers—-on top of cars.
But of the artists on view, the most winningly enigmatic is Fred Zafran, who photographs “unplanned encounters” on the streets of… well, it’s not really clear, which only adds to the mystery. Zafran’s comfort zone is a demimonde of dramatic footprints, looming shadows, darkened Hopperesque windows and blank planar surfaces that are so low-lit it’s sometimes hard to tell when he’s photographing in black-and-white or color (bottom). This small selection of photographs suggests that Zafran has distinct ability to capture a scene’s lurking unease.
Through April 28 at Photoworks, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo, Md. Open 1 p.m. to 8 pm Mondays and Sundays, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays, and any time when a class is underway. That includes most evenings, and many Saturdays and weekdays. To inquire call (301) 634-2274.