“Exchange,” assembled at Project 4 by guest curator Sheldon Scott, proceeds on two distinct tracks that can be appreciated either separately or together. On the one hand, the exhibit offers 10 photographs that feature a variety of local D.C. locations and characters; at the same time, it offers an audio commentary, accessible by phone, in which Scott, a D.C.-based “actor, storyteller, writer and monologist,” riffs on the photographs’ subjects. Both the images and the audio are uneven overall but offer impressive high points. The finest photographs offer unexpected, momentary glimpses into non-monumental D.C.—-Jati Lindsay’s man on U Street NW holding a black dildo behind his back; Messay Shoakena’s Metro riders with distracted, isolating “commuter eyes” (above); Shoakena’s ethereal tableau of pedestrians on a busy street corner; and Josh Cogan’s candle-lit homage to Brassai (below), featuring a depressed-looking bar patron sitting under a blank television screen. As for Scott’s brief monologues, they run hot and cold, but two stand out for their astuteness. In the monologue that accompanies the barside image, the speaker rattles off an unbroken succession of clichés about D.C. that will be familiar to anyone who’s spent any time here, from “murder capital of the world” to “even the squirrels are black” to “it’s Hollywood for other people.” In another, Scott speaks from the perspective of a man of seemingly indeterminate race who had been captured in a portrait in the exhibit by Sam Vasfi. The man imagines how his fellow bus passengers try to define him in their minds—-paying attention to whether he uses a SmarTrip card, for instance, or guessing whether he will exit at McLean Gardens or Anacostia. “They all hedge these little personal bets in their head and wait for me to pull the ‘Stop Requested’ sign,” he says—-a speculation as concise as any about the intersection of race and the nosiness of others.
The exhibition is on view to Aug. 11 at Project 4 gallery, 1353 U St NW, Suite 302