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Artful Intrigues 

Let's face it; everyone enjoys a good murder. No, not the tragic, tacky, messy kind you see on the TV news, but rather the glamorous or tastefully understated murders of the better mystery novels and their cinematic counterparts. Somehow the 1981 neo-film noir, Body Heat, with Kathleen Turner and William Hurt, comes to mind. Set in Miami, its skillful use of saxophones, heat and humidity (all those fogged windows) gave it a great ambience, but it was winsome because the victim -- a grating, corpulent creep of a businessman -- was so insufferable that you just had to root for Turner and Hurt, the perps. No, it wasn't as civilized as a proper British homicide, but it had class.

Emily Brady's black-and-white photographs at the Henry Gallery capture some of the breezy brio of those more satisfying murders in settings that suggest New Orleans, but might be anywhere. The first frame in the diptych, Breakfast Is Served, is a domestic scene in which a blandly smiling professional guy is being served his morning pancakes by his dutiful, skillet-wielding wife. We don't see much of her, just him, her arms and the skillet, as if we're seeing what she saw. In the second photo, the back of hubby's head is just below the skillet as it descends toward him in a silent, forceful arc, clutched tightly by her two gloved hands. The others are similar but with flower pots, guns, syringes and vehicles, all in settings of ostensible domestic bliss, yet so low key that you have to look twice to realize what you're seeing. Overall, it's a goofy, yet whimsically understated exploration of domestic mayhem.

Of the other four photographers in this, the Henry Gallery's premiere show, the work of Jackie Brenner explores another highly popular point of interest in the form of sex. No, it's not porn or even wardrobe malfunctions, but the more traditional titillation provided by strippers, with shots of the girls working in the klieg-light glare of the stage, as well as in behind-the-scenes intrigues. In one of the stage shots, an Asian guy places a wad of bills between a crouching girl's legs, while backstage, other girls horse around in front of a mirror. But the most telling may be the incidental views -- for instance, a purse open to reveal a pack of Camels, a picture of a cute little girl and a wad of bills. In another, a stripper stares vacantly into space as the ambient light caresses her face in a way that only high-quality black-and-white photographs seem able to fully register. In these sociological yet poetic photographs, coolly rendered light and shadow define the contours of a classic documentary series.

In the work of M. Delos Reyes, the intrigue is architectural, in darkly luminous views of elegant parlors, baroque subterranean passageways, fog-shrouded cobblestone alleys and medieval French churches. As much as the architecture, the light is a tangible presence here, a darkly intimate luminescence, Proustian in its sepia imprint of things past, a living aura like a long lost scent embedded in folds of Spanish lace. In Reyes' world, all views are antique, mysterious, Iberian and romantic, regardless of venue.

The black-and-white landscapes of Jeff Hersch are large and sometimes minimal. The imposing scale lends an almost painterly presence, but the image that really stands out is Chicago Loop, a long exposure of a busy intersection in the rain, with blurred lights dancing like ghostly tracers amid the umbrella-wielding passersby in the half-light. It's a common formula approach, but this one is uniquely transcendent, an iconic image.

No less evanescent are gallery director Brett Henry's own largish color images of Louisiana's coastal wetlands. Rendered with a long exposure times, the grassy reeds, blue sky and water blur into a vague pastel melange, as if all substance were dissolving, which may well be the case. In Coastline 2, some agitated waterfowl flutter by like a fast-forward avian version of Duchamp's Nude Descending Staircase, but mostly these images challenge us to see them as more than just pale, blurry color photographs. Henry deserves credit on several fronts here, not least for opening a striking new photography gallery with a solid premiere exhibition.

click to enlarge Jackie Brenner's Friday Night Grind series of - photographs explores the onstage antics and behind- - the-scenes intrigues of strip-club performers.
  • Jackie Brenner's Friday Night Grind series of photographs explores the onstage antics and behind- the-scenes intrigues of strip-club performers.
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