It may be summertime froth, but the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s exhibition “The Deep Element: Photography at the Beach” has a clear lesson: that few notable photographers, no matter how serious the rest of their oeuvre, have been able to resist the primal pull of surf and sand. Robert Adams? Check. Harry Callahan? Ditto. Nicholas Nixon, Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, Elliott Erwitt, Aaron Siskind, Bruce Davidson, Minor White, Imogen Cunningham—-they’re all here (an image by Nixon is below). The works stretch as far back as the 1880s, but the collection predominantly includes works since the 1960s. The exhibit, though filling only two modest-sized galleries, includes a lot of solid work; only a few images, however, stand out. Silver Spring-based photographer James Sherwood contributes an image of a youngster being buried up to his head in sand—-a wholesome tableaux portrayed with an unexpected queasiness due to an over-enlarged, saturated grain. Callahan’s dreamy photograph of rippling grass in Massachusetts uses earth tones so subtle it’s hard to tell they’re even in color. By contrast, Massimo Vitali portrays beaches in hyper-detail and with a palette of nearly unreal shades of blue (above). And W. Eugene Smith offers an image infused with his trademark humanity—-a girl carefully writing a word with her foot in the sand.
The exhibition is on view 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday and Friday to Sunday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday to Oct. 14 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 17th Street NW. (202) 639-1700.