Architectural spaces as a study in contrasts

"Transitory" by Sean Perry
“Transitory” by Sean Perry at d berman gallery

Exhibit: “Transitory,” Sean Perry at d berman gallery, Austin, Texas; through 10 September 2005

By STEVE HOPSON

Contributing Editor
'The Sentinels' Copyright © Sean Perry. Courtesy of the artist. All rights reserved.

AUSTIN, Texas (Fotophile.com) — Sean Perry’s moody monochrome prints display his view of the mechanical and architectural elements of modern communication infrastructure. The subject of each of the 17 prints, selected by the d berman gallery from Perry’s “Transitory” series, is a look at industrial elements in Austin, Texas — cell phone towers, satellite dishes, electrical transmission towers, smokestacks and cooling towers, and buildings — within the landscape they inhabit. Perry’s rich use of contrast finds many of the communication elements silhouetted against stark black skies and wispy white clouds.

The exhibit focuses on Perry’s split-toned, silver prints of medium format images while featuring three large — 48-inch square — prints that Perry digitally processed and printed on Fuji Crystal Archive paper. These large prints begin the display and set the tone for the portfolio. Perry’s process here is to print and tone the negative first as a silver print and then to scan and digitally print the image. In this way, the digital prints match the look and feel of Perry’s hand-processed, silver prints. The show begins with Perry’s photo, “Dharmachakra,” an allusion to the Buddhist, wagon-wheel emblem symbolizing completeness of knowledge and the eight paths to enlightenment. Perry captured this allusion in one spoke of a carnival ride with triangles of light bulbs completing the emblem.

Perry’s second large print is titled, “Revelation,” and shows the upper deck of the Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium at the University of Texas. Perry combines architectural elements of the stadium, showing the viewer the light blasting through the football stadium’s light towers and the stair-cased underbelly of bleachers, while a lone cell tower stands in stark whiteness against diffuse clouds and black sky.

d berman selected “Future/Past” to complete the trio of large prints. This view of highway bridge support towers divides the frame vertically into three sections. The outside sections show the blackness of the concrete supports while the inner section is filled with curving, wispy clouds and a crescent moon. Perry finds life within the concrete as its blackness is highlighted by water-stained veins and a toughness that resembles elephant hide.

Perry’s 14 smaller, silver prints continue his exploration of the careful balance of highlights and shadows, enhanced by his subtle split toning techniques using sepia, selenium and gold toners. In Perry’s industrial landscapes, power transformers on a telephone pole are silhouetted against the sky, smokestacks pierce the clouds, and the center of high-tension power pylons are shot directly skywards. Perry’s photograph, “Pulse,” finds the heart of one of Austin’s historic Moonlight Towers covered in wires and Christmas lights as subtle gradations of sky light pulse against the pure blackness of the tower’s mechanical features.

Several of Perry’s photos explore a simple stark pattern of one major element occupying half of his frame balanced against the sky. “Night Into Day” is one example of this artistic scheme. In this photo Perry has filled the bottom half of the frame with the stark whiteness of a building — UT’s basketball arena, the Erwin Center — balanced against a blank, black sky. A similar composition, “Truce,” finds a white, Cirque du Soleil tent flying a white flag of peace while a contrail-like cloud transverses the frame and separates the gradations of gray skies.

Perry has written that he created his “Transitiory” series to show the tension of conflict and harmony. Perry’s display at the d berman gallery dramatically shows these tensions while also displaying Perry’s command of digital and chemical printing processes and his unique artistic vision.