Here's the tried-and-true formula for making "successful" art photographs in 2006: Shoot color. Shoot digital. Use Photoshop to make your images eerily "perfect." Make prints as large as your budget allows (regardless of what you're trying to say). Pick a singular subject and exhaust it. It's best if these subjects are "types"—executive washrooms, security guards, porno theaters, home schoolers. And finally: Don't worry about developing "an eye" for shooting good pictures. The only point of view you need is clinical and detached. (When in doubt, see Candida Höfer.) This simple recipe has been bamboozling curators, gallerists, and even some artists for years now, and there seems to be no end in sight.
Ann Kendellen's solo show at Blue Sky works precisely because it disregards every single edict prescribed above. If you were to take every facet of what makes a fashionable photograph here and now, invert it, and nurture it with decades of attentive practice, you might have something like Kendellen's quiet, intimate black-and-white images, and the art world would be a more interesting place for it.
These small, matted prints (all untitled and undated) are nothing if not modest; they speak quietly rather than shout, and their unassuming scale and range of gray tones create a familiar intimacy with the viewer. The images themselves speak to a distinct regionalism, maturity, reflection, confusion, romance, deterioration, and transition.
Two trees wrap around another in an eternal embrace; a view of spongy ground offers a simultaneous glimpse of a cloud break; and a handwritten message on a cinderblock wall reads, "I have been everywhere looking for you." In another artist's hands, these photos could veer into the overtly sentimental, but Kendellen's versions are tough and hard-won. In each, the sky is overcast and stingy, the earth soggy. Diagonal compositions dominate the show, which keep your eyes perpetually moving, never resting or getting comfortable.
This crosshatched diagonal jumble reaches a head in a photograph of partially assembled bleachers. Gray pipes and rails form an intricate and nonfunctional latticework against a cold blank sky. In the foreground, though, a startlingly white set of stairs offers a vague ascension, though it can only drop you off in the tangled maze that dominates the scene. In the distance, a pickup truck faces away from you, indifferent to your decision.
Free of trends and stylistic shortcuts, Kendellen's photographs run on the strength of visual metaphors and a honed personal vision, resulting in a show that whispers its truths where others feel the need to yell.