In much of her previous work, Noelle K. Tan’s photography has been striking for its exquisiteness—-a mix of precisely shaded details amid a glaring field of white, or the reverse, brightly lit features within a cloak of darkness. But Tan’s work has also been notable for its anonymity: It has been everywhere, and thus nowhere. No longer. Her new exhibit, “The America Project: utopia,” stems from a road trip Tan took to an eclectic yet relentlessly downbeat bunch of locations—-among them the site of the Branch Davidian standoff; Slab City, a squatters’ refuge in the California desert; Dealey Plaza, the site of JFK’s assassination; Centralia, Pa., the site of a decades-old underground fire; and Carville, La., the location of an old treatment center for leprosy. The narrative thread may make sense now, but only in two locations does Tan’s new imagery reach her past standards of excellence. One is in Greensburg, Kan., where a devastating 2007 tornado produced the kind of wasteland panoramas that work well with her understated shadings. The other is the site of the World War II-era Trinity nuclear test in New Mexico, where Tan’s long-distance image of a chain-link fence and visiting tourists presents a riveting symphony of hazy, repeating forms.
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