Dummies Speak

Tom PetersonTom Peterson always remembered reading William Carlos Williams’ Paterson in college.

When he retired, he began his own Connecticut urban epic. Instead of a pen, he chose a Nikon D-600 camera as his tool.

Some of the intriguing results are on view in “Uptown,” Peterson’s exhibition of 14 mostly color large digital prints on view at City Gallery on upper State Street until April 28.

City Gallery is a cooperative enterprise, with 18 members who take turns helping each other have an exhibition roughly once every 22 months. Peterson is one of two photographers in the cooperative, which was established in 2003.

All the the images in “Uptown” are 30-by-20 inch images and were taken during one of the photographer’s promenades along Fifth Avenue in New York.

The idea was to shoot mannequins in high-fashion stores in a way that what is behind them reflected is precisely what they see across the street as they look out.

That is, if the mannequins were human.

That’s, of course, what makes the images intriguing. It’s in our nature to attach a story to these faceless or semi-faceless svelte beings, who might have arrived as extras from a sci-fi feature and made a quick stop to take a modern dance class.

During a tour of the small but engaging exhibition on Thursday Peterson said he chose to go to New York and to shoot mannequins for two reasons. Years ago he took a series of mannequin shots in an antique shop Waterbury, but of close-to-human-looking, expressive dummies.

He finds precisely the facelessness of the high-fashion mannequins he found in Manhattan the source of what could be endless stories.

“They speak with their gestures,” he said.

The other motivation: In a previous photo exhibit called “Out of Sight,” Peterson took large-sized portrait photos of homeless street people in New Haven. He chatted with them, got to know them, and paid them for their services. He said he deliberately made the images in “Out of Sight” larger than the heads of the humans who came to view them, so they would not be ignored.

Roll the clock ahead, and “Uptown” became for him a way to balance things. “There’s so much opulence [on upper Fifth Avenue in Manhattan] these are the high end stores, they’re so fascinating to me. This is the opposite. These aren’t real.”

Peterson said he liked the new work for the angles he gets to play with and of course the light and shadow that is a photographer’s stock-in-trade.

And yet that old English major is very much still with him. “There’s story here, and a lot of humor,” he said, pointing out in that regard this red-lipped babe (pictured), aptly titled “God’s Gift,” as if she’s appealing to the other mannequins along the avenue to behold and admire her cool.

The images are up only through Sunday April 28, during City Gallery hours.

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