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Photography is presented as an art form as vibrant and inspirational as painting or sculpture in the Southeast Museum of Photography's "Photography=Art." Through three distinct exhibits, the museum showcases styles ranging from 1950s black-and-white Polaroid film to gum bichromate prints and digital imaging.

"Fresh Work," the best of the three, offers the impressions of 16 artists, all unique in style and subject matter. The stunningly crisp colors and detail of Susan Felter's prints lay bare the beauty of nature. The results appear so natural that only upon further inspection does one realize that the simple images of leaves, snakes and bugs are put together digitally to create a magical composite.

Frank Noelker, too, deserves praise for his peaceful, somewhat sad look at animals in a zoo, and the delicate colors in his iris prints are beautiful standouts. Luis Mallo also brings a sadness to his distorted and dim images of stained glass. He reaches into his own memory -- and ours -- to create a mood that goes much deeper than what is seen in the prints. Mallo's work, like so many others on display, takes familiar items -- animals, toys, people and places -- and puts them in an unfamiliar world. For Maggie Taylor, drawing inspiration from Salvador Dali or even Hieronymus Bosch, that unfamiliar world takes the form of the surreal figures of two elegantly attired young women who just happen to have canary instead of human heads, in "Bird Girls by the Sea."

More educational but not as visually engaging is "Innovation/Imagination: Fifty Years of Polaroid Photography." While "Fresh Work" is broken up into separate rooms, where the lighting and geometric shapes of the galleries complement the works, this subexhibit's presentation is slightly bland, filling three large walls of a rather vacuous space. Still, the pieces are intriguing enough to warrant a look.

Eileen Cowin: Still (And All), the third exhibit, is less memorable, even though her use of light on her human subjects is stunning. Especially mesmerizing is a large silver-dye bleach print of a partially nude female figure, as well as her depiction of light streaming through blinds and illuminating a darkened human figure.

Viewed as a whole, however, the complete installation captures just the right mix of the beautiful and the bizarre.


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