‘Landlines’ embodies both equilibrium and anchorage

Joan Sullivan
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Visual artists will often talk about how a painting should be about painting, that a viewer should be aware of how the medium of oil or watercolour is employed in creating the piece. It shouldn’t, in other words, be trying to look like a photograph. So, what does that leave for photographers? Are they left to simply capture reality?

In Ned Pratt’s “Landlines,” opening today at the Christina Parker Gallery, the 15 or so images are all about photographing actual things, but his process renders them in ways that push away restrictions imposed by staking interest in “the real world.”

The pristine colour, the almost architectural crispness, the sometimes huge scale, and the placement and interplay of planes all combine into work that is based in both art and science. Angles and juxtapositions are brought to life, resulting in surprising interactions and unity.

“Fogo Ferry” (all the pieces are of pigment-based archival print, and big, measuring 34.75” x 46.5”; this is from 2010) is half filled with the surface of metal hull, offset by equal squares of sea and sky. There is a geometric purity and drama of perspective here which runs throughout the works.

In “Transicold Trailer, Herring Season” (2011) the corrugated lines seem to rush to their horizon point. An empty transport locker is an unusual thing to shoot, as is “Trailer With Red Stripe” (2011), in which the alchemy of the camera eye changes common shapes into something abstract, almost fantastic. But even when Pratt does present more common sights or scenes their framing is unique and unexpected.

“Between Spaniards Bay and Bishops Cove” shows the two communities to either side, small clusters of warm light both connected and parted by a line of coast and cliff, topped with a single standing white light, dead centre.

Such focal points and straight on views are consistent elements in Pratt’s work. “Vinyl Shed” (2010) and “Blue Shed” (2010) are spatially composed with the subject in the hub of the picture, but this balance is seen even when the main object has a naturally irregular shape, as in “Tree by the Peat Farm” (2011). Same with his knack for parallel configurations, whether found in “Erosion at Salmon Cove” (2011), with its layers of shale and long tangled grass and foggy sky, or the field and rock and cloud underscored by a yellow traffic line on asphalt in “Breakwater, Off Frenchman’s Cove” (2011). In these arrangements and strata of manmade and wild forms, Pratt discovers an unforced symmetry.

He seems to take the colours as he finds them, at the same time locating harmonies of white and brown and grey and green. They almost hum, a tonal concurrence suggested by the show’s title. “Landline” embodies both equilibrium and anchorage in a thematic duality.

Just so, the curves of “NRC” hum with purpose and accord, in agreement of function and pattern, its form, designed for utilization, discovered to exude some lyricism as well. It is not so much that Pratt is romantic. But he is paying attention.

“Landline” continues until Sept. 15.

Organizations: Red Stripe, NRC

Geographic location: Spaniards Bay, Salmon Cove

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