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Photography in flux 

Traditionalists may be unnerved by the new exhibition at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art.

“Photomorphosis II” epitomizes a fresh approach to creating and viewing photographic images. Juror Richard Martin selected the final exhibits from a statewide call for entries, and the finalists’ work contains High Dynamic Range (HDR), texture addition, and numerous other photographic post-production techniques. Yet each piece is the product of the individual who submitted it. The real creativity comes from the photographer, not the instrument, and as Martin notes, “The individual must bring his or her creativity to the tool.”

Traditional photography fans, however, need not despair. Although the exhibition indicates a state of flux in photography methods, there’s a sense of timelessness to the art. Many pieces resemble early photos, such as Chuck Behrmann’s Havana Train Yard #232b, and even his use of modern time-lapse technology serves to create a nostalgic quality. His Havana Locomotive #208c has a hand-colored tinge that harkens to early photography, yet with an element of modernism. The exhibition portrays photography expanding and pushing conventional boundaries: Elizabeth Haslam’s Rock ‘N’ Roll is printed on Plexiglas but creates a fine-art style illusion. Anna Plotkin’s Off To Work looks uncannily like a watercolor.

This crossing of genres is characteristic of the exhibition, in which the stylistic nature of the photographic images pushes familiar photography techniques to create something exotic and new.

Works like Kabe Russell’s surrealist A Place to Dream and the scenes of Africa in Alison Watt-Jackson’s Huntress showcase unconventional subjects. However, just as the techniques reflect traditional photography methods, much of the art centers on contemporary local lifestyle, such as SLO Pavement by Kathryn Bay and Dreams of Shell Beach by Mimi Ditchie. This contributes to the push/pull feel of the exhibition: stretching boundaries with the subject matter and techniques, yet returning back to the local and traditional.

The exhibition marks an important new phase of photography, and it’s in SLO through Nov. 18. The seamless fusing of old and new creates a haunting impression, inviting speculation and imagination. Whatever your photographic alliances, “Photomorphosis II” is sure to be a resonant experience.

The San Luis Obispo Museum of Art (SLOMA) is downtown at 1010 Broad St. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day but Tuesday. Admission is free. Visit sloma.org for more information.

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