San Francisco

Arthur Ollman

Grapestake Gallery

Phenomena invisible to the naked eye have always interested photographers. Marey and Muybridge, for example, both used the medium to analyze movement. In Arthur Ollman’s night pictures, color film coupled with lengthy exposures (4 to 5 minutes) reveal a brilliant, artificial spectrum of hues. He photographs in the urban milieu: a children’s playground, street intersection, blocks of row houses, industrial warehouses and beaches. His 20mm wide angle lens yields a high degree of distortion, causing buildings to loom ominously upward, and objects placed away from the center of the frame to fall off in exaggerated perspective.

His 35mm images, enlarged to 16-by-20-inch format, are grainy, adding a texture or pattern to the unnatural color. The artistic limitation to this technique is a lack of control. Colors are unpredictable, and particularly where the light emanates from incandescent or sodium-vapor street lamps, the result may be a gaudy spectrum dominated by chartreuse, pink and amber. Chromatic consideration seems to preclude other photographic concerns in these pictures—evidenced by elementary compositions and overused subject matter.

The colors in these prints are primarily the result of ambient light and film reciprocity, and as such they are indicative of the peculiarities of color film—not of atmospheric conditions. His pictures are full of intense but arbitrary saturations. Purple punctuates the sky above a white neoclassical building, or an orange and blue house complements a green sky. These garish renderings tend to resemble inaccurately hued picture postcards or psychedelic memorabilia. Unlike Marey or Muybridge, whose experiments substantiated real occurrences, Ollman’s camera vision does not record environmental actualities.

In some images the photographer achieves a chromatic balance that operates with subtle and intelligent ambiguity. A dusty colored viaduct at the beach, green footprints in the sand, or steel-blue industrial buildings contain hues that refer to our natural perceptions of the object. These pictures are stronger, as the theatricality of the wide-angle lens is minimized. The viewer is not catapulted into forced arrangements.

With these few pictures Ollman demonstrates that this technique can, under certain conditions, create evocative interpretations of the night landscape. But rather than determining which images are effective, Ollman exhibits a potpourri, implying that technique and lenticular distortion can replace artistic control. For these photographs to be considered as anything beyond chromatic oddities, more thought to subject selection, formal arrangement and editing is necessary.

Hal Fischer