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Dreaming Change
H. Gene Bradford's surrealist photoscapes
Review: JungHaus Gallery
April 2008
by Kaizaad Kotwal

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© Photos Courtesy of H. Gene Bradford

Kiss Me, by H. Gene Bradford.

H. Gene Bradford’s surrealist photographs are otherworldly. His montages of recognizable objects are wonderfully juxtaposed to create vistas or landscapes that exude mystery and magic.

Titled “Al/H2O – Hard Water,” Bradford’s collection, currently on display at the Jung Association Gallery through April 26, allows the viewer to enter a myriad of made-up worlds, leaving ample room for personal interpretation and exploration.

A wonderful play is present in most of these images between the more organic forms based in nature and other shapes and objects that exude a colder technological aura. That tension between nature and technology permeates almost all the images, allowing Bradford to make some vivid commentary about man’s relationship to both. Another compelling trait in the series is the vivid interplay of abstraction with more representational imagery.

Ghost in the Works, by H. Gene Bradford.

In The Third Day of Creation, Bradford has manufactured an image that seems to hint at the creation of both the universe and mankind. A shiny reflective orb is like a bubbling cauldron of cosmic goo. A wonderful hint of glowing yellow-orange fire in the upper-right hand corner threatens to ignite the whole image into a blistering explosion. A metallic spiral resting at the base of the orb is reminiscent of the double-helix model of DNA, the building block of life. As in many of his images, Bradford uses reflective surfaces to great effect allowing the viewer to constantly find new things in this powerful image.

The supernatural realm of spirits and ghosts is explored vividly in Ghost in the Works. Similar to the Creation image, where Bradford hints at a universe in the process of becoming, here he plays with the notion of a ghost being born. In the upper right, a swirl of wispy white lines (reflected water) wonderfully captures an ethereal form trying to take shape. This primordial smoke is kinetic in the way Bradford uses line and space making the form seem to almost shift before our eyes. The bottom half of the image is traversed by a copper coil stretching tenaciously in space. This form adds further mystery to the photo: Is this some device used to conjure spirits, or is it an opposing force that is keeping the ghost from fully taking shape? The use of a monochromatic palette of sepia tones and subtle golden-browns adds power to the fear factor evoked by this image.

Kiss Me is a photograph that also plays with a life-form trying to take shape. Here a face seems to struggle while emerging from a bed of bubbling plastic and liquid metal. The lips of this face are the most fully formed and they seem to be in the process of puckering-up for a kiss. There is macabre humor, a creepy proposition of sorts being made by the amorphous face to the viewer. Perhaps if we stare long enough at the image, the face will have time and strength to form and leap off the surface and smack us one right on the lips! The hidden face in the bubbles is reminiscent of the villain in the film Terminator – in both, the mercurial qualities of the forms seem to collapse and coalesce with no effort, making for creatures that are elusive and enigmatic.

Many of the images here have a political edge. In Onward Christian Soldiers, Marching for the Oil, Bradford features a coil of metal shavings against a murky-orange backdrop. The symmetry of the metallic form and its rhythmic repetition in space creates the metaphor of a soldier marching in lock-step with a superior’s commands. The backdrop suggests the sun-drenched desert or a vast oil field set ablaze by a military conflagration. The immediacy of Bradford’s commentary against the current war in Iraq is overt.

The most amazing thing about Bradford’s work is that while the photos look technically slick and suggest digital and computerized manipulation, his techniques are as old as photography. Bradford simply uses found objects, creating carefully manipulated compositions. He then lights these vistas using natural and artificial lighting before shooting the image. Very little fine tuning of the contrast or tonal gradations is done digitally. He uses an old medium to concoct images that seem presciently modern, even poetically post-modern.

The exploration of repetitive motifs and Bradford’s obsession with dream imagery and journeys into the human subconscious make this exhibit a wonderful fit for the Jung Association location. Bradford’s technical skills and his mastery of all conundrums metaphysical allow this to be an exciting and thought-provoking show.

McCleary will be present at the gallery for an artist’s talk on Friday, February 15, 2008, at 4 p.m.

"Al/H2O - Hard Water," runs through April 26, 2008 at JungHaus Gallery, 59 W. Third Avenue in Columbus,Ohio. Call 614-291-8050.

© 2008 Short North Gazette. All rights reserved.

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