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Review: Julia Hechtman/Devening Projects + Editions

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Owing to pure courageousness, or perhaps just personal inclination, Julia Hechtman has decided to try something rather monumental with means that are quite simple. Her first solo exhibition at Devening Projects centers on a group of eight fairly typical nature photographs presenting deciduous forest settings in various stages of seasonal development. Shot at oblique angles, each image lacks a horizon line, a key compositional element, which would normally serve to orient us, the viewers, within the space described; as such, we are provided with a space, albeit an indefinite one, ensuing a sense of dislocation as if to suddenly find ourselves waking, face up, in a field on a bright winter morning. We could be anywhere. We are certain we are somewhere, but where exactly remains unknown. This unconventional perspective, and a complete absence of foliage in some instances, cause Hechtman’s photos to seem a little eerie, but altogether understated while remaining clearly within the bounds of generic nature photography. Her attempt to capture the nondescript beauty of the everyday natural word is ultimately not an ironic parody, but remains altogether sincere. The monumentality of her task consists in her attempt at sincerity within a supposedly outmoded and exhausted approach. Though not entirely alone in this endeavor, Hechtman has a few close compatriots in the work of photographers John Opera and Melanie Schiff, not to mention the monumentally scaled canvases of painter Claire Sherman. It’s interesting to note: Sherman, Schiff and Hechtman each spent an extensive amount of time at Oxbow, the School of the Art Institute’s back-woodsy retreat on the other side of lake Michigan—undoubtedly time well spent. Hechtman’s photos reexamine the strength of artistic will; asking, can an individual rescue an entire genre from the deep torpor of cliché? (Nate Lee)

Through October 10 at Devening Projects + Editions, 3039 W. Carroll

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