Photographer Marjorie Gillette Wolfe wanted to study the personality of a mobile home when it wasn’t mobile any more, and instead just hanging around at the owner’s stationary home.
Another photographer, Mark K. St. Mary, wanted to know if he photographed differently when away from home — that is, with the wider, discovering eyes of a traveler. Or with eyes challenged to overcome the more familiar if working at home.
The show at the gallery on Whalley Avenue in Westville runs through July 3, with a 4-7 p.m. opening reception with the photographers this Saturday, June 11.
If you’re still debating vacation or stay-cation, this invigorating and illuminating photography exhibition might be a good place to help you decide.
The origin of the pairing of these two photographers started a year and a half ago when Wolfe began photographing trailers in her travels around the Elm City and beyond.
Actually, the deeper origins: “Since a trip West several years ago, where trailers are ubiquitous, I’ve been considering how America travels, and what becomes of trailers when they aren’t at Yosemite or Yellowstone, Disneyland or Niagara Falls,” she wrote in her artist statement.
Photographing the vehicles from the street, driveways, public vantage points, and often in her car, she found a subject full of charm and personality.
Unhitched from the cars or trucks that haul them, absent the barbecue, the beach chairs, and all the camping and picnicking paraphernalia — absent most vestiges of human accompaniment — these trailers, many of modest size, elderly, and possibly no longer roadworthy, take center stage and with confidence in their new role in Wolfe’s study.
Wolfe’s previous exhibitions are carefully composed images of where water meets earth or borderlands, exhibiting environmental concerns. Here she has found a subject that thrives in driveways, backyards, and even the corners of parking lots.
The trailers do tricks. They hide. They pose artistically for the camera, as if saying to Wolfe: We don’t need to be doing what we were made for. Just look.
By contrast, Mark K. St. Mary is primarily a photographer of abstract patterns. Unlike Wolfe, whose lens takes in a recognizable setting, St. Mary narrows his view to the textures of old brick walls and painted plywood, beaded drops on a pane of glass, the geometries revealed in piles of gravel or asphalt.
Over the years, especially in the beginning of his career, he has documented interesting patterns that he photographs with enough distance so you recognize a street view, intersection, or even building. When he discovered he was to be paired with Wolfe, he looked for a theme to compliment her interest in home-away-homes.
The result is that he decided to examine his photographs, some made in New Haven and some taken on his travels — no mobile home involved — to other cities such as San Antonio, New Orleans, and London.
As he put it in his artist statement, he began to wonder “whether or not I approach my work the same when I am working while traveling or working at home in a familiar context.”
His part of the show offers 13 pairs of images, one from his travels and one close to home. “I seem to have more abstracts from the New Haven area,” he said, and more landscape and architectural works from his travels.
As a traveler, he might be going to well-traveled, more touristy places, St. Mary speculated, whereas at home, on familiar ground, his feet and his eyes caused him to “look more closely for odd stuff.”
A case in point is this pair of facades, one from a commercial area in San Antonio and the other the shadow of the Gold Building, that is, the large office building where Chase Bank is on the ground level at Church and Wall Streets.
He said he was primarily interested in the reflection, but he also saw a commonality in the patterning that led him to pair the images. When a friend recently saw the Gold Building image and said aloud “I know where that is,” the response did not please.
“It’s too common,” he reported, by which he meant that in the familiar context of New Haven he is drawn mostly to images that will not be recognized, that will offer surprise to a viewer, in part, by virtue of of their close-up, abstract anonymity.
St. Mary’s artistic concerns in this show are obviously very different from Wolfe’s. But their work shares an interest in what the concept of home means and how it’s experienced, not only by the eye of a photographer, but by all of us.