There is an intriguing contrast as well as some similarities between the photographs of Stanley Marcus and his granddaughter, Allison V. Smith, in their “Reflections” show at Artspace at Untitled.
The exhibit contains smaller pictures of people and other subjects by the former president of the luxury brand Neiman Marcus, who died in 2002, and larger, square-format photos by Smith, a Dallas photojournalist.
The color pictures by Marcus, “discreetly made during his international travels for the company,” or portraying family and friends, have an informal, unforced documentary quality, which makes them especially memorable.
In a photo of “Vice President Lyndon Johnson,” taken at his ranch in early 1963, the future president has an intent expression, at odds with his casual seated posture and gold, short-sleeved, almost exotic sports shirt.
Nearly surreal is Marcus' 1964 photo of several serious-looking men, seated in a bar or cafe, under round-topped, umbrella-like hanging lamps, wearing “the Stetson Made Famous by LBJ.”
There is something a bit surreal, too, about his photo of the backs of two priests, whose black hats and long black robes, as they look at Roman ruins, make their bodies almost seem to be joined, like twins.
The same might be said of his 1957 picture of the back of a woman, wearing a black dress, looking down, somewhat askance, at parts of two unclad mannequins, used in something called “the French Fortnight” in Dallas.
Capturing the spirit of travel nicely are Marcus' photos of a Cadillac being lowered below deck on the Queen Mary in 1948, and of a quaintly charming merry-go-round, with small houses for seats, at “A Fair in Milan” in 1957.
Equally eye-catching — and holding — are many of Marcus' pictures of people. The dark suit worn by Christian Dior creates a striking contrast with the exotic pattern of fabric behind him, as the designer smokes a cigarette, with one hand in his pocket, at his Paris apartment, in a 1954 photo.
His wife sits with two female friends, wearing straw hats purchased at the market in Acapulco, the warm colors of their pink skins balancing the cool blue of the ocean behind them, in a 1962 picture.
The downward angle of a striking 1958 photo makes a Paris model wearing a red and black floral pattern dress seem to be in danger of tumbling into the tumble-block pattern on the floor tile beneath her feet.
Very different are the large, square-format photographs of Smith, who typically uses a Hasselblad camera, some of which communicate the silent visual poetry of empty, perhaps abandoned spaces.
Cases in point are provided by her 2005 photo of one side of an old, weathered “Drive In” movie sign, covered with wood or cardboard, and her 2006 picture of a “Grocery” in Marfa, Texas. Red suffuses her nocturnal 2005 picture of a neon “Hotel” sign, and a flat black background makes a brightly lit Marfa “Locker Plant” seem even more dramatic in a 2004 photo.
High heels make “Red Shoes on Red Square” (in Moscow) stand out vividly, as does the red color of a buoy containing “The Bell” in two more works which have a strong visual impact.
Interior still life subjects are handled equally well by Smith in her 2010 and 2011 pictures of blue “China” plates on white shelves in Maine, and of “Carrots and Deviled Eggs,” seen from above, as if floating in space.
Inanimate, yet almost animated, are the carved wooden birds on stick legs, surrounded by white surfaces, in a 2010 photo, while artist Robert Indiana looks a little lost, in her 2011 photo of him, taken in Vinalhaven, Maine.
One of Smith's most subtle and evocative images in the current show is a 2009 picture of a stand of birch or aspen trees on a small island, reached by a wooden bridge, in Rockport, Maine.
Containing 64 prints, the “Reflections: The Photographs of Allison V. Smith and Stanley Marcus” show is highly recommended during its run through March 30.
— John Brandenburg