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Art Notes: Photographs of Orchids, Done With Care and Technique

  • The cast of "8," a Chandler Pride dramatic reading, in rehearsal at Chandler Center for the Arts, Saturday. (photography / Bob Eddy)

    The cast of "8," a Chandler Pride dramatic reading, in rehearsal at Chandler Center for the Arts, Saturday. (photography / Bob Eddy)

  • The cast of "8," a Chandler Pride dramatic reading, in rehearsal at Chandler Center for the Arts, Saturday. (photography / Bob Eddy)

Whenever someone chooses to photograph an object, I often wonder what makes it art rather than documentation.

The best answer I can come up with is care and technique. What elevates the photographs of Ed Ruscha, whose 1963 book Twentysix Gasoline Stations consists of exactly what its title indicates, to that higher plane? He cared about his subject and about how his view of them would influence visual culture. For this sort of work to transcend the subject matter, it needs to show us far more than the thing itself.

On that basis, Bernard Trumpower’s photographs of Dartmouth’s Brout Orchids succeed, mostly. Most of the 33 photographs on view in the Ledyard Gallery in Hanover’s Howe Library isolate the orchids against a black background and in reflected light, a setting that enhances the otherworldliness of the blooms. The plants are like something captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. Trumpower, a Dartmouth biochemistry professor, has captured many of the orchids in a way that renders them less as plants than as creatures. The prints bring the blooms to nearly human size, and they seem so alien, so alive that a viewer is forced to reckon with them. I haven’t seen the plants themselves, but I doubt they are more powerful in person than these images of them are.

The three blooms of Parroglossum echidna ‘Spike’ each have three tendrils, one pointing up and two down. They are tilted slightly, like the heads of inquisitive puppies. Another, Phragmipedium Cardinale ‘Wilcox’ is photographed at such magnification and resolution that the orchid’s tiny hairs are visible. Blossoms are essentially the reproductive organs of plants, and there’s a carnality to these photographs, each of which examines a delicate anatomy.

While many of Trumpower’s photographs are razor sharp, I found myself wishing that they were more uniformly so. In some images, the edges of blooms are fuzzed and indistinct. The use of a shallow depth of field isn’t always compelling, although the uniform use of that technique helps tie the images to one another. The show includes two photographs taken in natural light, neither of which struck me as successful.

Seeing digital images blown up to this size also made me think about the use of film. Kodachrome 25 was long the standard for sharpness and resolution, and it was a remarkably stable film stock. Since Trumpower aims to photograph all of the roughly 1,000 orchids donated to Dartmouth by alumnus Alan P. Brout and is now about halfway done, might film be a better archive? I don’t have a definitive answer, but I tend to lean in film’s favor.

Ledyard Gallery has just extended this show through Dec. 26. The orchids themselves, 1,000 plants donated by Dartmouth alum Alan P. Brout, can be seen by the public on the fourth floor of the Life Sciences Complex on the north campus, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Holiday Shows

Randolph’s Chandler Gallery opens its Holiday Bazaar, a yearly exhibition of fine craft, tomorrow. The bazaar is open to the public Thursdays and Fridays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Dec. 21.

∎ AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon opens its “Holiday Salon,” next Friday, Nov. 30, with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. The annual holiday show will be installed salon style, with works clustered up and down the gallery walls, rather than spread out in a long line at eye level.

∎ Newport’s Library Arts Center holds its annual “Gallery of Gifts.” It features work by more than 80 of the area’s artists and artisans, and is open through Dec. 22.

∎ “The Holly & the Ivy,” a holiday group exhibition, is on display at Windsor’s Nuance Gallery.

∎ Photographers Rosamond Orford will hold a two-day show and sale of her work on Dec. 1 and 2, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., at 1485 Union Village Road in Norwich. Call 802-649-1490.

Looking Ahead

Chandler Gallery in Randolph is calling for artists, ages 20 to 30, for a show opening Jan. 20. It’s open to Vermont artists in all media. Submissions must be received by midnight Dec. 5. Cartoonist James Sturm and printmaker Rachel Gross of White River Junction will judge the submissions. For more information contact Janet Cathey at 802-728-4375 or janetensia@gmail.com.

Last Chance

“My Favorite Book,” photographs by John Douglas of Howe Library patrons with their favorite books, is on display in Dartmouth’s Baker-Berry Library Room 183 through Tuesday.


“Oil Paintings by Myra Hudson,” a solo show from the Royalton artist, is on view at the Tunbridge Public Library.

∎ “Light and Space,” an exhibition of large-scale prints by East Barnard artist Sabra Field, and work by fiber artist Karen Madden of Poughquag, N.Y., sculptor Pat Musick of Manchester, Vt., and Springfield, Vt., painter Dan O’Donnell, is on view in the Great Hall of the renovated Fellows Gear Shaper factory in Springfield, Vt.

∎ “The Past Meets with the Future,” paintings, drawings and mixed media by West Lebanon artist Fiorella Tasca Buck, is on view at West Lebanon’s Kilton Public Library.

∎ Two Rivers Printmaking Studio in White River Junction exhibits prints by Lois Beatty.

∎ Colby-Sawyer College in New London holds an exhibition of work by its fine arts faculty in the college’s Marian Graves Mugar Art Gallery. The show features work by Loretta S.W. Barnett, Debbie Campbell, Lucy Mink-Covello, Nicholas Gaffney, Brandy Gibbs-Riley, David Ernster, Jon Keenan, Michael Lovell, Mary Mead, Hilary Walrod and Bert Yarborough.

∎ Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center exhibits four new works by fabric artist Joan Morris, who uses a proprietary printing process to place thin layers of precious metals onto dyed silk, through Jan. 21. The new works hang in the niches at the south end of the hospital’s East Mall.

∎ The Hood Museum of Art exhibits “Crossing Cultures: The Owen and Wagner Collection of Contemporary Aboriginal Australian Art at the Hood Museum of Art,” which offers a survey of Australian Aboriginal work since the 1960s, and “Stacey Steers: Night Hunter House,” a recent Hood acquisition by the Denver multimedia artist.

∎ Kimball Union Academy in Meriden hosts a “Bicentennial Art Exhibit,” featuring work by faculty members Ursula Fries-Herfort, Julie Haskell, Jim Schubert and David Stern, in the school’s Taylor Gallery.

∎ The Main Street Museum exhibits “Green Mountain Graveyards,” photographs by Scott Baer and Dan Barlow, through December.

∎ The “Invitational Dartmouth Alumni Exhibition,” a show devoted to work by 14 Dartmouth graduates, is on display in the Top of the Hop and in the new Black Family Visual Arts Center.

∎ “Healing With Art,” an exhibition that seeks to aid the healing process for cancer patients, is among the exhibitions on view at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Fall shows include mosaics by Susan Whelihan, paintings by Richard Widhu, photographs by Stuart DuBoff, paintings by Shelli DuBoff, drawings by Kathleen Swift, mixed media by Karen Kamenetzky and work from the Global Children’s Art Program.

∎ Gifford Medical Center in Randolph is exhibiting quilted landscapes by Northfield, Vt., fiber artist Pamela Druhen.

Art Notes appears in the “Valley News” on Thursday. Notices must arrive two weeks prior to the Thursday before an event. Send email to artnotes@vnews.com.