A breakdancer captured in a gravity-defying moment on the sidewalks of Tijuana, Mexico. Bubble gum, not spray paint, creating a collage of bright graffiti in Boulder, Colorado. A man painted red with devil horns ambling down Rampart Street in New Orleans.
These photos, among those in Did You See That?! Stories of Urban Oddities at the Spruill Gallery through October 25, represent the world according to Steve Steinman. A freewheeling exploration of fringe culture that is hiding in plain sight, the show captures the quirky details that provide a deeper insight into a community’s multifaceted identity.
Seattle, for example, is considered the epicenter of American coffee culture. Yet Steinman chose to depict a factory worker in bright blue gloves tending a vat of yellow curds in a cheese processing plant. Instead of the typical postcard view of the city’s popular Pike Place Market, Steinman chooses to shoot the entrance to the public restrooms there, which are framed by male and female silhouettes in tile. Between them is a portal that leads into the, er, bowels of the facility. The overall effect is eerie and stereoscopic.
The majority of the photographs here are in color, presented in vibrant shades and tones that dazzle the eye and radiate beyond the frame, especially in depictions of food trucks and roadside cafes, like the garish House-O-Chicken in Austin, Texas.
His photo of a Day of the Dead celebration in Atlanta features a skull-faced dancer blending into a vivid mosaic of red, pink, orange, purple and yellow as she displays her intricately patterned dress amid a riot of color.
“Steve uses a technique called high dynamic range photography,” says Spruill Gallery director Jennifer Price. “The process involves taking multiple photographs of the same scene with slightly varied shutter speed and then combining them into one leaving the final image with a greater range of exposure and detail.”
Sometimes this effect is taken to extremes, resulting in a sort of hyper-reality that looks more like a fantasy painting than a photograph — as in PUNKTURED, which exploits the exterior of a body piercing shop in Brighton, England, as a lurid marriage of DayGlo pink, neon aquamarine and hellish red hues.
Did You See That?! also includes a handful of black-and-white compositions, but they tend to get lost displayed amid the color prints. Perhaps a gallery area devoted solely to black-and-white would have had more impact.
There are some tantalizing standouts, however. Did You Know Flash Gordon Lived in San Francisco shows a gigantic metallic rocket, poised for blastoff, at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. In what is otherwise an unphotogenic urban strip, the conspicuous sculpture represents an irrepressible but quintessential aspect of the area’s eclectic appeal.
While this exhibition might not alter your concept of photographic art, it presents a highly engaging, and at times intimate, collection of work by someone with a gifted eye for the odd details we may not notice in our own communities as we go about our daily lives.