New York

Hope Sandrow

Soho Center For Visual Artists

This is what Hope Sandrow tries to do, sometimes with genuine results. Ms. Sandrow’s black-and-white portraits look at first glance like the photographs people take of their friends with Instamatics. In fact, her compositions look so much like that, they’re a little disturbing. They cleverly exaggerate the kind of effect which comes from lack of control in a snapshot. In snapshots, for instance, a peculiarity of the background which the photographer hasn’t noticed often distracts us from the subject. In Sandrow’s work, the background purposely steals the show. An urban skyline rises incongruously above the roof of a low pavilion. Through a space where two plates of glass are missing from a modern facade, there peeps an Ionic column bathed in eery light. The longer we look, the more trouble we have getting our bearings.

And when we finally do recover from the background enough to look at the subject, we realize that he’s a little weird too, with his slightly hostile squint or his eyes closed like a death mask’s. This is another take-off on snapshots, where typically the shutter is released at a moment when the subject isn’t ready. Just as Sandrow’s backgrounds dominate her ostensible subjects, so her photographs prove more substantial than the sort of snapshots they are made to parody. This may not seem like much of an accomplishment, but it’s harder than it looks. It clears the air, which is always the first thing you should do when you come into some place where you’re starting a new job.

Colin L. Westerbeck, Jr.