The Crowded Vacancy

Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA)

Photography shows are sticklers. As wall material, photographs don’t make it. If they’re small enough to retain the negative’s integrity, they poke little square, black holes in the wall, usually behind a smothering plate of glass or a preciously wide mat; if they’re blown up to painting size, the gallery looks like a poster boutique of thin, trendy images. Photographs belong in books, and that’s why the catalog of The Crowded Vacancy, an exhibition of three Los Angeles photographers, is superb, while the show itself is merely good. It is reportage, lending itself to flights of literary interpretation (“pure” visual photography usually employs weathered barns and close-ups of artichokes or descends into a photo-plus gimmickry cranked out in design studios housed in converted rooming houses painted ochre and charcoal), and in that a good deal of objectivity is lost. I like this show in part

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