In photographer Tierney Gearon's latest series EXPLOSURE, currently on view at Jackson Fine Art, boulders are rendered lighter than air, shadows crawl toward the sun, and ghostly forms cheerfully mingle with the living. "Frame 18" watches two worlds collide within a single image: A gray-haired businessman gasps as the sidewalk dematerializes into thin air, while a bikini-clad swimmer stands unaware that her local pool has just merged realities with Wall Street. Double-vision continues throughout the series as each photo unites two scenes shot in different locations ranging from Cape Town, South Africa, to Kanchipuram, India.
A busy single mother and internationally known artist, Gearon took a recess from her life traveling the globe to give a sold-out lecture at the High Museum during last month's Atlanta Celebrates Photography festival. The Atlanta native caused a stir in 2001 with her exhibit I Am a Camera at London’s Saatchi Gallery. Some viewers bristled at the work, which included shots of her children playing in the nude, while other voices including the Guardian newspaper, launched campaigns to protect her from censorship.
Less intimate and more global in scale, the reality-defying vision in EXPLOSURE has been rightfully called hallucinogenic. The work could also be called athletic, since the images weren’t digitally manipulated. Gearon created the final compositions inside the camera by double-exposing the film, a process that required exhaustive travel. Scenes such as "Frame 13," which depicts a pack of stuffed grizzly bears alongside two girls twirling in the sun, radiates kinetic energy. It's the signature of a photographer constantly on the move.
Double exposure provides an admirable handicap; it's hard to anticipate what the print will ultimately look like. But the unpredictability also prevents Gearon from planning themes in advance. Individually, her compositions succeed as self-contained conversations on motherhood and, to a lesser extent, questions of class and race.
"Frame 1" shows a meeting between two potential playmates, one black and one white. The double exposure inserts a phantom wall between them, creating the illusion that the girl in the foreground is walking through a prophetically open door. But the image has little to say beyond a hinted promise of racial equality. Its value has more to do with a delight in the accidental and the play of light and pure color.
Another skillfully managed accident, "Frame 18," resembles a diagram from a geology textbook, where different strata of rock represent different ages of the earth. Two ladies in red dresses stand in matching red pumps. Their expressions look almost cynical compared to the saccharine tableau shown below: two girls with golden locks clutching an ephemeral mushroom cloud of party balloons. Gearon cooks up a metaphor for the stages of womanhood, served on a candy platter.
A photographer without borders, Gearon dares to imagine a world unbound by the physics of time and space. EXPLOSURE is dynamic and smart, even without a highly developed theme. By cutting her safety net, Gearon substitutes control for visual punch.
EXPLOSURE Through Jan. 16. Free. Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Jackson Fine Art, 3115 E. Shadowlawn Ave. 404-233-3739. www.jacksonfineart.com.