Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park, 226-2811, through December 7
Imagine being one of the adventurous art patrons of the early 1980s--the first wave of collectors to spend serious dough on fine art photography. And not on the old Stieglitz and Weston bunch, either, but the young Turks--the Cindy Shermans, Bill Wegmans, Nic Nicosias, and Richard Princes. Imagine displaying your vibrant, cinematic C-Print next to your Robert Longo drawing, and asking yourself the same question every time you give it a good look: "Is that thing fading even more?" It's true. Those old color photos have a short shelf-life.
Not long after that wave of '80s photo stars, PhotoShop came along and the genre of digital photography burst onto the scene with some of the most atrocious results in recent memory. Evidently, nobody told the digital pioneers that they didn't have to use every single tool that PhotoShop provided. Due to a general lack of commercial, critical, or public interest, the digital revolution waned a bit, and is only now making its comeback.
Work by New Means at the Portland Art Museum explores the confluence of both of these phenomena: digital printing has provided alternate and archival means of printing color photographs, and more photographers are using their computers with some restraint, souping up colors, and erasing distracting details. Work by Eugene artist Craig Hickman dominates the exhibition. Hickman's photos of roadside banalities--BMX tracks, jacked-up Volkswagons, hand-painted ice cream signs, and metal storage buildings--look like "straight" photos on steroids. The colors pop unnaturally and the skies are eerily uniform. Something ineffable is slightly amiss. For Hickman, it's just a little tweak here and a little tweak there--something the previous half-generation failed to grasp. Other standouts in the show include an insanely good pair of photographs by Californian Jeffrey Milstein, who presents us with the underbellies of the Stealth Bomber and a Boeing 747, and a brief history lesson which contains early examples of non-darkroom printing, such as early wire photos, the first scanned image on record, and Hubble telescope views of Mars. CHAS BOWIE