Art review: Strong, arresting work in Atlanta Photography Group show

Though the photographers in the Atlanta Photography Group's juried exhibition "Portfolio 2017" are wildly, stylistically diverse and hail from all corners of the United States and abroad, in concert they work a kind of magic.

It might have to do with guest juror and independent curator Andy Adams’ great choices in these six participating photographers. Adams has a clear love of the figure and of the many ways photographers can manipulate and experiment with its supremacy. But beyond that at times unifying theme of portraiture, this group show is a splendid mix of unique points of view and memorable work.

The six photographers featured in “Portfolio 2017” hail from as far away as Moscow and as close as Birmingham, Ala. Most work in black and white, though Muncie, Ind., photographer Mark Sawrie is the outlier whose steeped-in-quirk color images find the strangeness in ordinary situations. Taking a cool, measured appraisal of the physical world, Sawrie finds all manner of weirdness afoot. Sawrie shoots planet Earth like an alien observer, highlighting an array of the visual non sequiturs and delicious little accidents life can often yield, as in “Jesus Objects,” where an array of structures in the landscape — billboard, telephone pole and fallen wooden pole — somehow evokes a medley of crucifixes.

Savannah photographer Emily Earl and Moscow photographer Elena Nikitina take a documentary approach in their work, though their subjects couldn’t be more different.

Earl’s quarry are scantily clad hipster party animals sporting Bettie Page bangs and a sullen expression, leather hot pants and rhinestone bras, all bathed in lo-fi glamour. Young women pose with their motorcycles, or vamp in lingerie in images with a fleeting resemblance to Nan Goldin’s party people images of New York City nightcrawlers.

Nikitina’s photographs home in on ordinary life in Russia in humanistic images of tired grandmothers sprawled out for a midday nap in a bedroom decorated with kitty posters or a little girl joyously hopping down a dirt road in an expression of blissfully uninhibited freedom. The images are gentle, delicate and utterly unlike San Francisco artist Samantha Geballe’s confrontational, wonderfully subversive self-portraits in “Self-Untitled.” Defying the typical photographic devotion to supple, perfect, photogenic flesh, Geballe’s approach more often conjures up British painter Lucian Freud.

Geballe is a sad-eyed, tattooed young woman whose rippled flesh and corpulent body are an affront to standard issue notions of an ideal female form. Her kindred spirit in “Portfolio 2017” is Houston’s Rashed Haq, whose “Unmasked” series of manipulated portraits seeks to capture the emotional states of his subjects and has the unsettling effect of cubist paintings or work by Joel-Peter Witkin. Exaggerating features, like a horrifyingly gaping mouth full of teeth in “Woman in a Boat of the Dead,” Haq sees plasticity in the human face, molding and shaping it like clay to create the stuff of nightmares.

In contrast, Birmingham’s David Diodate collects specimens — an animal skull, a wasp’s nest, a bird or boll of cotton — that feel like beloved treasures in a cigar box collection, beautiful relics of the natural world. As much sculptural objects as photographs, Diodate mounts his nature studies on board and coats them in a gooey layer of wax and resin. Diodate’s images are poetic, perhaps a little overworked with all those busy layers, but arresting nevertheless.


“Portfolio 2017”

Through Feb. 11. Noon-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. Free. Atlanta Photography Group, Tula Art Center, 75 Bennett St. N.W., Gallery B-1, Atlanta. 404-605-0605,

Bottom line: Bold, engaging work defines this top-notch group photography show with an emphasis on portraiture.