In David Akiba’s homage to the celebrated late-modernist photographer Harry Callahan, he takes up the tradition of the straight black-and-white abstraction that defined the frontiers of art photography in the post-World War II expressionist outburst, when Chicago was at the center of the movement at the fabled Institute of Design. Akiba’s series, done in 2000 and receiving a well-deserved revival here, comprises eleven diptychs of images of small stones that he gathered on the lake shore near Charlevoix, Michigan, which he brought home to Boston, Massachusetts, where he arranged assortments of them into assemblages and photographed them so that they took up the entire frame, betraying no context beyond them.
Akiba’s aim was to pay tribute to Callahan’s gift of wedding “formal rigor and emotional depth” in a powerful compact image, not to imitate Callahan’s particular application of those standards, which he decidedly did not do. Whereas Callahan produced vivid meditative images in which the eye is drawn into the subject, such as a leaf, to dwell inside its scintillating detail, Akiba’s pebbles evoke a sense of disordered dispersion that forecloses the satisfaction of integrity. Akiba, whose other photographic projects are marked by the influence of postmodernist deconstructive play, comes too late to attempt to achieve unity in diversity; instead he embraces diversity and then shows how it is transformed under different guises, which is the point of the diptychs. In a representative study, Akiba shows in the image on the left a group of stones, which sprawl in clumps across the frame, on a smooth bed of sand; and on the right the same grouping in which the sand has been furrowed and rippled. The play of the two images against each other as the eye goes back and forth produces the delight of subtle contrast effects. Akiba creates a similar effect by taking his assemblages under different light or by making them more or less bunched. In good contemporary fashion, what goes on between, not within, is where the action is. (Michael Weinstein)
Through May 23 at Alibi Fine Art, 4426 North Ravenswood