Art review: a trio of photographers at Michael Warren Contemporary

Contemporary photography is an art form in constant motion. Enabled by evolving digital technology and expanding creativity, today’s photographers reinvent the form routinely, frequently challenging the very definition of what is, or is not, a photograph.

Denver’s biennial Month of Photography is in full swing now and there are plenty of opportunities out there to catch up with the latest ideas. One of the best variety shows is taking place at Michael Warren Contemporary in the Santa Fe arts district.

The gallery is hosting three solo shows by a trio of Denver’s most adventurous photographers. Each of them has a distinct style, but they come together cohesively at the gallery because of their overlapping explorations of nature and space and the way we see those things through light and color. It is a commercial show, for sure, but it has the feel of a themed museum offering.

Brenda Biondo leads things off. One of the region’s most prolific picture-makers, Biondo’s work is inspired as much by painting and collage as it is by the history of photography itself. Her photos rarely look like photos; instead, they appear as present-day updates of the geometric abstraction movement that was popular in the U.S. and Europe in the 20th century. At first glance, a viewer would think they are oils or acrylics on canvas, or assembled cuts of paper.

In essence, she plays with light and shadow, often shooting pieces of paper that she folds and manipulates to capture different shading effects. She gets up-close and intimate with these folds, framing them tightly as if they were monoliths or large-scale works of architecture.

To (attempt to) simplify a complicated process, she then photographs that photograph over a different background, often a blue-hued sky. She does this multiple times from slightly different angles.

Then she takes all of the secondary photos, sizes them similarly, and puts them together into grids or other patterns or formations and prints that out on aluminum sheets to produce the final work. For the piece titled “Modality 20,” part of a series, she combines 20 of her scenes together into a horizontal grid that stretches 5 feet wide.

More down to earth is her monochromatic “Legacy of Shadows” series. Biondo employs a similar method, though in this case her original photos of paper are photographed in front of a background of shadows of leaves and branches. Unlike the “Modality” series, which can appear cold and manufactured, these photos have a natural, organic quality to them, while still feeling manipulated by the artist’s hand.

Biondo’s works are visual puzzles to be solved, but without urgency. There is a completeness to them, and a tranquility that offers visual satisfaction without the need to understand exactly what she puts in her frames — though the exercise of trying to sort out the subject matter makes them infinitely entertaining. They need to be seen in person.

Angela Faris Belt, whose work is installed in a separate gallery space, has her own distinct — and noteworthy — process. Her most sensational raw material consists of the cremated ashes of some unnamed loved one, which she manipulates in varying ways on flat surfaces before scanning them for her final work.

In the most visually exciting pieces, her “Among the Stars” series, she lays the ashes over images captured by space telescopes. One work, for example, uses as its background NASA photos of the sprawling Andromeda galaxy, with its millions of tiny dots that are actually the stars that make up the cosmos.

The bits and pieces of cremated ash mingle with the stars; you can’t tell what is ash and what is space material. In that arrangement, one assumes, is an insinuation that our physical selves are all part of a grand, endless universe, just another bit of matter floating in the dark sky.

Faris Belt employs these ashes in other ways. For one series, she spreads them on photographic paper and lays them outdoors, creating deep blue sun prints. In another, the best of the bunch, she simply lays the ashes out on a dark background, shapes them into circles and piles of dust and makes her photo. They still resemble images of the sky, though in more artful ways.

These objects are archival pigment prints technically. But what are they in essence? Photos? Photos of sand paintings? It is hard to tell, really. But they come together as very personal memorials to whomever it was that Faris Belt lost. Several people who have seen these images have asked her to make similar objects using the ashes of their own loved ones.

Finally, in the rear of the gallery hang Gwen Laine’s circular “Of Light and Wind” photos. Laine has long investigated taking photos of the same scene as it evolves naturally over time. These pieces are different, and heavily manipulated by the artist, and full of mystery.

In her statement for this show, she talks about being captivated by photos she took outdoors during blowing winds and using those images in different settings. Here, she digitizes and plays with the photos in ways that are inspired by trade winds, turning them into something that resemble spirals. Her piece “What the Wind Revealed” takes on the personality of a marble, with a blend of colors that move together in an orderly circular flow.

It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to photograph wind itself, but these images seem to do that.  They evoke motion that is visable, like the ripples of water, but also invisible, like the transparent power of air as it blows things across the planet.

They are experiments that succeed in varying degrees but come together as apt complements to the sky and cloud explorations of her exhibition peers, Biondo and Faris Belt. This is a tight show with a concise lesson on where photography is and where it might be going.


The three exhibits continue through April 15 at Michael Warren Contemporary, 760 Santa Fe Drive. Info: 303-635-6255 or

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