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Art & Museums

World through 5 lenses: 'Behind Our Scenes' gives photographers' distinct viewpoints

| Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
'Made In America, Garden Theater pre-renovations' by Annie O'Neill
'Made In America, Garden Theater pre-renovations' by Annie O'Neill

The exhibit “Behind Our Scenes,” organized by photographer and independent curator Jennifer Saffron for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's SPACE gallery, Downtown, offers ample opportunity for contemplation in very distinct installations by five Pittsburgh-area photographers.

“This show documents spaces, both architectural, psychological, and constructed spaces — even fantastical spaces — that point to exactly what photography does: take real space and turn it into a flat portrait for us to encounter,” Saffron says.

For example, each of Barbara Weissberger's works are portraits of a gallery-size wall collage she did in 2012 called “Meat Horizon.”

For this installation, which she calls “Collage Formations,” she pinned hundreds of photographic fragments and photo collages to the walls of the gallery in which “Meat Horizon” was hung and placed mirrors low to the ground that create double images of the pinned elements and cast great shafts of light against the walls throughout the gallery.

“As I documented the installation, I began thinking about creating set-ups with images, pins and mirrored materials in the studio with the intention of making a photograph of each arrangement,” she says. “The photograph would frame the arrangement and capture one instance of these very impermanent assemblages.”

The elements in the photographs include a collection of objects such as mirrored films, sculptures, rocks, leather scraps, cardboard, papers and Weissberger's photographs of meats. Photos within the arrangements are then re-photographed one or more times through the process.

“I approach the composition of each photograph as I would a collage — through color, shape and structure,” she says. “Collage formations may be hard to parse as representations — for example, reflections create distortions, objects are turned upside-down or fragmented. The way in is to allow them to give way to abstraction.”

Nearly two dozen photographs make up Leo Hsu's installation, “Free to the People,” which replicates a library experience right down to the furniture Hsu added to the gallery to give his installation a certain “library feel.”

Created between 2010 and 2012, the photographs show library patrons in response to the 2009 proposal that some local Carnegie libraries in Allegheny County be closed because of a budgetary crisis.

“County and state funding had fallen, and hours and staff were being cut. Branches were starting to close,” Hsu says. “I wanted to do something to help, to recognize how important our libraries are. I conceived of this project that would hopefully get at the experience of being in the library.”

Thus the installation is meant to create a library-like space that the visitor shares with the photographs. “I hope that people will feel comfortable coming in and staying a while, on the couch or at the table,” Hsu says.

There also are books in the installation for people to browse. “Some are my own, and many were loaned by the Friends of the Downtown and Business Branch, and the Friends of the Allegheny Branch,” Hsu says. “I tried to stock it with a variety, but there are definitely more art books and books of short stories and essays.”

Like the local libraries, which faced the threat of closing, Nancy Andrews and Annie O'Neill chose to approach another changing subject of their environment, the Garden Theater, which is just a few blocks from their North Side home.

Thus, nearly two dozen images capture the inside of the place, from the lobby to the projection room. And they've thrown in a row of old theater seats for good measure.

“The projection room felt like a monument to early theater,” O'Neill says in regard to several of the photographs that feature it. “Today, we watch movies with such ease — but it used to be real work to make the film show, much less have sound. It was an art itself. Equipment once critical to the experience, but now too heavy or worthless to even move, sits nearly undisturbed. Only the recent Cafe Mocha cups give hint to more recent visitors and (of) a next phase coming.”

Finally, Dennis Marsico's installation is in three distinct parts that he says represent a “40-year fast-forwarded view of the 1960s mantra ‘Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll'.”

“My translation of this mantra is ‘Fantasy, Experienced and Happiness',” says Marsico in regard to the works on display that follow personal family narratives that are enhanced with a soundtrack featuring songs by Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

“The photos are of my wife of 40 years, Lynn, and our first granddaughter, Eleanor,” Marsico says of a touching series of portraits that capture the cycle of life in real time.

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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