Planet Review by Adrienne Golub 3/1/01 [Full
photographer Barbra Beeler incorporates elements from popular
culture and personalized objects while struggling with the
demons of her inner self. Her process is a fascinating combination.
working from the outside-in and inside-out is evident throughout
her current solo exhibition at Ybor's HCC Art Gallery. In
particular, "Batgirl" and "Mother's Milk,"
both selected for Tampa Museum of Art's UNDERcurrent/OVERview
2000, are shown to advantage here.
exhibition includes 14 large photos within several series:
dreams, live-models, and the recent post-cards. Small framed
studies demonstrate process and future directions, including
an apparently rare phenomenon, female violence against males.
Beeler motifs are everywhere, nostalgia, sexuality and aggression,
the latter sometimes taking the form of Scrabble letters
spelling words like "blood." These are the least
effective, not only for their mass-produced concreteness
(like Barbara Kruger's overkill lettering), but because
they lack the subtlety that Beeler has so ably used in other
her Polaroid teacher, Florida photographer Anna Tomczak,
who shows at St. Pete's Merrick Gallery, Beeler is drawn
to the seductive and unique properties of the large-format
Polaroid camera. At 6 feet high and 300 pounds, it's a pricey
apparatus one rents, in addition to the studio, and by reservation.
Only three exist in the world. Beeler is fascinated by super-real
clarity where heightened details magnify the texture of
the watercolor paper she prints on, fabric threadcounts,
even individual strands of hair.
a process Beeler repeats whether using her 1940s era press
camera or visiting Polaroid studios in San Francisco or
Prague, she creates small preparatory studies, framing them
through a viewfinder before snapping. Included are textured
fabrics and actual objects ranging from small dolls, children's
books, and framed photos, to fresh flowers and vegetables.
to the photographs of HCC's Suzanne Camp Crosby are evident,
especially in Beeler's diorama stage-sets and plastic figurines,
something we also see in the work of New York photographer
Laurie Simmons. What's different is Beeler's dark side sensibility,
seen in photos like "Entanglement." On another
level, her new "postcard series" reveals her compulsion
to express the emotional turmoil of personal relationships.
These images seem less visually resolved or riveting than
the complex early pieces.
exhibits a mature and promising restraint of figures and
textures. Draped cloth infuses the overall image with rich
texture and design, suggesting an effective collision of
ideas and culture. It is neither sensationalized nor screaming,
and it leaves room for us to peel meanings away and still
enjoy the elegant aesthetic overlay. But what makes it different
from other photos in the exhibition is its intelligently
staged illusion of depth. We are led into the composition
where a red-framed sexually-suggestive photo, somewhat blurry,
quietly hints of a dark undercurrent. The image as a whole
is very effective.
Beeler apparently added abundant wall text after the show
was hung, it should have been left on the table. Too much
reliance on text, especially when it looks like an afterthought,
is not a satisfactory experience to viewers trying to digest
visual images. Despite our curiosity, images deserve to
stand on their own.
Coordinator Carolyn Cosar, new to the area and to her job,
is doing a super job of developing a broad range of exhibitions.
I hope HCC will find a way to extend gallery hours, a requisite
if this is to become a stop for artists and art-lovers.