Photographers Mine Different Territory Print
Art - Reviews
Tuesday, 30 September 2003 18:00
It has to be old, broken, rotting, or decayed for something to make it as Jon Stuckenschneider subject matter. I don’t think the travel and tourism bureaus will want to hire him to do their photos, because his black-and-white gelatin prints evoke bleakness. There is no doubt that his photographs transcend into being works of art; the care and concern with which he presents his images are evident, even if the subject matter is somber.

Stuckenschneider’s work is a stark contrast to Thomas Payne’s color computer-enhanced digital photography in the current show at Quad City Arts in The District of Rock Island. The show features more than 40 photographs and runs through October 17.

Stuckenschneider’s statement notes that he “produces complex black-and-white photographs of landscapes, trees, buildings, and human forms. The complexity is created in his darkroom … by sandwiching two negatives together or by ‘dodging and burning the shadows and light’ … to diffuse the image, distort and alter what is to be seen.”

Stuckenschneider’s prints are a good expression of antique-like black-and-white photography. Scott Co. Ia is a photograph of a root-cellar air vent protruding from the ground in a wooded area. That isn’t what comes to my mind when I think of the rolling hills of rural Scott County sloping toward the Mississippi River, but his is a valid vision.

Payne combines graphic letter images inside his photographs to advertise his message; his work holds a mirror to slick magazine photography. His photo Totem silhouettes a cathedral’s spires against a blue sky with the word “totem” in block letters superimposed on the image. The addition of type to a photograph reminds me of a magazine cover and therefore accurately confronts us with much of our pop culture.

Payne’s artist statement says that “each piece uses literary words to play upon visual photography. Thomas believes these visual and literary poems have the right proportions of sacred and profane, of politics and aesthetics, and of logic and absurdity.”

When combining photos and graphics, one treads a fine line between art and advertising, portraying life and perpetrating propaganda. It will be up to each viewer to decide on which side of the line Payne’s work resides.

Painter Offers a Final Gift: Nancy Pfeiffer Towner and Steve Sinner at MidCoast Gallery West, through October

One of the things about reviewing the work of an artist who has died is that one is confronted with the finality of life. There are no suggestions for improvements, no thoughts about different media, and no way to ask questions. It is the ultimate expression of an artist saying, “Here I am, take it or leave it. I have.”

I wanted to comment on the sculptural quality of Nancy Pfeiffer Towner’s paintings, to muse on suggesting that she try expressing herself in clay to be transferred into cast metal, but there is no way. The artist died in January after her work had been accepted for this show at MidCoast Gallery West. It reminds us all that we shouldn’t wait to do that thing we’ve always wanted to do.

In the best of Pfeiffer Towner’s work, her emotion comes through clearly. You feel like you’ve met the two guys Sent as Lambs at a local beer joint. From the bib overalls to their vacant stares to the unshaven faces, these guys clearly could be walking the streets of the Quad Cities or any Midwestern factory-farming community. We’re lucky to have these works from Pfeiffer Towner and unlucky that there will be no more forthcoming.

Her brother wrote more of a requiem than an artist’s statement: “These paintings seem painted with blood, smoke, and umber earth on the fabric of dreams. Sometimes trembling, sometimes fierce, infused with tenderest love, graced by delight and fantasy.”

Pfeiffer Towner’s paintings are shown alongside the work of Steve Sinner in this show. As I’ve said several times before, his wood turnings are exquisite, and there are some bargains in this exhibit.