Beauty: Eye of the Beholder

Rhiannon Neale and Gregg Burner: September 17 to 29 at Cre8ery

Rhiannon Neale and Gregg Burner’s respective bodies of work aren’t particularly similar. Burner, in his fifth decade as a photographer, has largely worked in fashion and news photography. 

He shoots exclusively on film and much of his work in Beauty is assignment or commissioned work from his days as a photographer for the now closed Winnipeg Tribune. By contrast, Neale’s work, which is entirely digital, is more personal, focusing on nature. 

That difference is the central premise of the exhibition, which aims to create a conversation between the works by placing them next to one another. The show fully commits to this concept. No information is given about any photo other than its title and the photographer, leaving viewers to guess on its year and subject. 

Half the fun of the juxtaposition in Beauty is seeing how the artists’ works overlap. It forces the viewer’s eye to recognize visual and thematic connections one wouldn’t make independently. Burner’s Dandelion is an extreme close-up that abstracts the flowering weed almost entirely. Neale’s Boris, an extreme close-up of a spider, so effectively utilizes the same approach that both pieces could be by the same artist. 

Burner’s work especially benefits from the show’s premise. Newspaper photography originates in such a specific context and altering that context infuses the work with wry humour. In one photo, a massive crowd in business attire surrounds Pierre Trudeau, who looks like a sneering punk singer with wild hair and a ratty T-shirt. Separate from its accompanying story, the photo takes on an absurd tone. 

Neale, who has relocated from Winnipeg to Scotland, makes great use of her new surroundings. Her photos of Arthur’s Seat and the crumbling Melrose Abbey are particularly stunning. She manages to avoid the typical trappings of nature photography by imbuing her works with a humanity the medium sometimes lacks. Graze, a photo of a bison’s face, shows a personality in an animal usually depicted as hulking and indifferent.

Published in Volume 70, Number 3 of The Uniter (September 24, 2015)

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