Tobacco: Architectural Photographs by Maxwell MacKenzie


Maxwell MacKenzie's photographic projects tend to be dominated by a single aesthetic: He documented old stone buildings in Europe, with a haziness that verged on pallor; he horizontally chronicled the old barns of Otter Tail County, Minn., with film that was able to capture robust shades of color. More recently, while photographing barns in other parts of the American West, MacKenzie returned to the horizontal ratio but switched to black-and-white infrared film, producing a series of jaw-droppingly crisp images. This time out, the artist has produced an exhibition that takes some stylistic detours but retains the high standards of his previous work. "Tobacco: Architectural Photographs by Maxwell MacKenzie" documents rural settings (pictured) within the East Coast's vanishing tobacco corridor, relying once again on the photographer's signature technique: the use of a motorized ultralight glider. In the past, MacKenzie relied on this contraption to spot locations he'd later photograph from the ground; this time, he's also taken a number of photographs directly from the air. These aerial images, printed with atypical gloss, are less impressive in isolation than in the expansive grids of six, 10, or 12 images they're arranged into. This clustering allows for a stunning interplay of greens, golds, and auburns, each bathed in gorgeous late-afternoon light. Another new twist is MacKenzie's grid of 16 sepia-toned views of barn sides--a winking pastiche of Walker Evans and Bernd and Hilla Becher. Yet despite such experimentation, MacKenzie's old approaches have lost nothing of their luster. The long, narrow tobacco-curing barns MacKenzie finds are perfectly shaped for his images' horizontal frames; the bright-red barn roofs he encounters remain as enigmatic as ever; and the black daytime skies, fluffy leaves, and razorlike corrugations captured by his infrared film continue to dazzle. The exhibition is on view from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, to Friday, May 2, at the American Institute of Architects Headquarters Gallery, 1735 New York Ave. NW. Free. (202) 638-3105. (Louis Jacobson)

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