Pictures from Hell Mark Ruwedel Blue Sky Gallery, 1231 NW Hoyt St

I had always pictured hell as a modified version of junior high, but with no girls, no weekends, and the faculty being comprised entirely of my immediate family.

It turns out that, as usual, I was way off base and that hell is right here on earth, dotting the landscape of the America West, and Mark Ruwedel has photos to prove it. Ruwedel has been photographing places named for the devil and 36 of his prints are now on view at Blue Sky. What look like ordinary landscapes are actually Devil's Canyons, Devil's Gates, Devil's Elbows, as well as his Playground, Dancefloor, and Golf Course. The photographs, naturally, are of ordinary places with extraordinary names. Taken mostly in Utah, Nevada, and Colorado, these are scenes of harsh desert wilderness. Thistly scrub brushes and dirt-caked boulders baking under a glaring northern sun feature predominantly in the series.

If this photo essay were commercially produced, for a set of postcards or a coffee table book, for instance, there would undoubtedly be flashy color snapshots of bullet-ridden signs welcoming visitors to Hell's Gate or roadhouses boasting the best eats in Devil's Kitchen, and they would be mildly amusing for the length of time it would take to quickly flip through the book. Ruwedel takes the opposite, academic approach to the territory, focusing on nondescript vistas devoid of anything inherently interesting. Why bother seeing the show, you ask? I wonder the same thing. The problem with so many goal-oriented conceptual projects is that the results are secondary to the process, and frequently don't even require viewing. Ruwedel employs typical landscape lingo of exploring the relationship between man and nature, but the photographs do not bear this out.

I fail to see how making your art as unrewarding as possible--without a freshness of vision, without humor, without information, or revelation, or without aesthetic exploration--can possibly be a good thing. I'm happy to work for my artistic enjoyment, but shouldn't the art meet me halfway, providing some form of payoff? These photographs seem to gloat in their self-absorption, not yielding an inch, to which I say: the hell with that. CHAS BOWIE