“Traces of Myth,” on view at Hagedorn Foundation Gallery through January 26, attempts to align the work of five photographers with the idea that they embody a larger cultural identity. The ground floor, which displays the work of Landon Nordeman, Paul Hagedorn and Laura Noel, fails to be cohesive. The second floor, however, provides a fascinating comparison between two photographers whose work deals with ideas of absence.
The second floor features images from Lisa Kereszi’s “Fantasies” series and those of Chris Buck’s “Presence.” Kereszi’s “Fantasies” present unexpected views of entertainment venues ranging from movie theaters and Halloween haunted houses to strip clubs. The artist doesn’t focus her lens on identifying features such as gory masks or high-heeled women; instead she photographs empty rooms and spaces, focusing on details like the garish pattern of a theater aisle rug, the base of a stripper pole against a red carpet or the murky green of the exit in a haunted house.
Frequent views of hallways, corner passages and directional clues such as exit signs imbue these images with a sense of movement. The viewer’s gaze is directed toward what he or she might see while navigating this sort of space.
More profoundly, the absence of people creates an intriguing void and sense of isolation. These are explicitly places where you pay to see people perform. Their absence disturbs expectations and refocuses one’s attention on details that would otherwise be ignored. Seen with fresh eyes, the saturated colors and curious angles of these rooms become a labyrinthine array of wondrous effects. Through Kereszi’s lens, these spaces lose their intended charge and in return gain a preternatural luminosity.
Not all the photos produce this otherworldly effect. “DJ Booth, South Beach,” from 2002, is a more predictable depiction of an empty room. Lacking the sense of movement of the other works, the image provokes a feeling of anticipation of a soon-to-return DJ maestro; instead of intrigue, the viewer feels the boredom of waiting.
Chris Buck’s “Presence” series focuses on the lure of celebrity through unconventional portraiture. The artist photographed art world and pop culture figures ranging from Chuck Close to Michael Stipe — or so he says. Not one of the celebrities is visible, yet the promise of these people draws the viewer in. Every corner and curtain becomes a hiding place, every prop a clue. Buck’s portraits cleverly utilize society’s obsession with celebrity in conjunction with an intellectual interest in signifiers. A Huffington Post reviewer found the sliver of lawn at the top of Buck’s “David Lynch” reminiscent of the opening scene of Lynch’s film “Blue Velvet.”
The viewer’s compulsive clue-seeking is futile: Buck reveals nothing about the portrait subject and everything about our relationship with celebrity. He traps the viewer in his or her own desire. Futility notwithstanding, the search and rueful acknowledgement of Buck’s trap is ultimately enjoyable.
The artists’ reception for “Traces of Myth” will take place Saturday, January 12, from 4 to 6 p.m.