Small World

Joan Sullivan
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Photographer Toni Hafkenscheid takes a big look at our little lives

In the new release of Robert Frank's "The Americans," his seminal collection of on-the-road photography, there is a discussion of whether the focal point of the art of photography is to capture "the decisive moment" or "the in-between moments." It's an intriguing thesis, engendered by the conceit that a snapshot captures what is real. But, as photographers know, the eye behind the lens does mediate the resulting picture.

As photographer Toni Hafkenscheid writes, "The most fascinating aspect of photography for me is the fact that it so closely resembles reality." Therein lies the play of smudging the borders between what is seen and what is shown.

In the new release of Robert Frank's "The Americans," his seminal collection of on-the-road photography, there is a discussion of whether the focal point of the art of photography is to capture "the decisive moment" or "the in-between moments." It's an intriguing thesis, engendered by the conceit that a snapshot captures what is real. But, as photographers know, the eye behind the lens does mediate the resulting picture.

As photographer Toni Hafkenscheid writes, "The most fascinating aspect of photography for me is the fact that it so closely resembles reality." Therein lies the play of smudging the borders between what is seen and what is shown.

Hafkenscheid's work uses a shallow depth of field, meaning much of the image is deliberately out of focus. Partly because of this, the views in "Ho" look fake, like doll-scale panoramas.

Another fantastic element is the 1950s esthetic in the blared and optimistic blown reds and yellows and purples. At the same time, there is often a skewed perspective, with lines off-kilter, or attention trained on a subsidiary branch or plastic canister attendant to what should be the main scene. As a result, these 18 photographs have a rowdy colour-chromed spectrum and compact perspective that combines to make something almost holographic.

All but one of the works are from North America. Most are taken in bright day and are colour-drenched, but even the sole night shot is rich and tactile, and the dark is velvety and hyper-toned. They are often unpeopled - though not what would usually be dubbed landscapes. Instead, they frequently show buildings and construction dioramas, along with some highway travelogues and family Kodak movements ("Kids in a Raft, Utah;" "Family on a Beach, Vernon BC"). Most of the works are colour photographic prints (30 x 30) but there are some even larger Lambda prints (48 x 48). The pieces are dated 2001-2005.

The titles always cite the location, but that seems almost incidental. For example, "Port Albernia" shows an apartment building, bland, Modernist, balconied, that could be part of any urban locale on the continent. As in most of the pictures, the bottom and top are blurred. This effect suggests both myopia and passing speed. And yet, the imagery also seems freeze-framed. This effect occurs again and again.

"Diggers, Toronto ON" looks down into a big building site, a huge space where big industrial cranes and other heavy moving equipment look like toys. The text on a crane arm and two nearby yellow barrels is sharply legible, but the foreground and background are hazy, indistinct.

"Federal Building, Houston TX" shows the steps and lower part of the structure, full of a postmodern interplay of smooth surface, small windows, the lines of the building intersecting the supporting pillars, almost stilts, which hold the structure improbably aloft. It looks slightly tilted. The building and steps are sandy against a hot blue sky. Low on the left, almost out of the frame and it seems only accidentally caught at all, one figure exits through the bracing columns, and another sits on the stairway.

"Park, Vancouver BC" shows a multi-level garage. The letters PARK, as well as the spray-painted Small Car directions on the wall, and the imprinted concrete surface design on the building sides, are all crisp, but not the figures walking past on the sidewalk below. They are swirling globes of colour.

Other pieces include "Ottawa River," "Train Track Hope BC," "Subway Station, Rotterdam Netherlands," "Blue Suburban, Hope BC," and "Hess 1-90 New York."

"House and Tree #2, Ottawa ON," is in deep winter with a neat white bungalow under two bright irregular globes in the sky, perhaps they are the moon and a star, or perhaps two accidental reflections, as if the scene, or the camera lens, was wrapped in plastic.

The exhibition continues at A1C Gallery, 8 Clift's-Baird's Cove in St. John's, until March 1, and an artist's talk is planned over the next few weeks. For more information contact AIC at 237-0427.

Geographic location: North America, Utah, Houston TX Ottawa River Rotterdam Netherlands New York St. John's

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