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Robert Bean, Roy Hartling, Alvin Comiter, Bruce Sparks, Gary Wilson
From March 4th 1980 to March 29th 1980

In art, as in every sphere of human endeavour, there are those who lead and those who follow. And regardless of whether or not the followers equal or even exceed the leaders, their work is always dogged by a sense of déjà vu. Such is the case with the group photography exhibition currently on display at Optica Gallery.

In their twenties or early thirties, the five photographers represented all worked or studied together at one time at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax. Robert Dean, Alvin Comiter, and Gary Wilson are still living in the Maritimes. Bruce Sparks now resides in Calgary, Roy Hartling in Montreal.

As titles like Building with Sign suggest, Comiter, who is the best known of the group, takes a deadpan approach. One of his black-and-white photographs – Laundry Racks – conveys a real sense of ambiance. But most of the others rely on visual jokes. For instance, a winged statue appears to be tossing the wreath it is holding aloft over a flagpole on a nearby building. Unfortunately, the humor is too slight to sustain viewer interest.

There are two principal themes running through Spark's black-and-white photographs: construction sites and water in natural and unnatural bodies. In one striking images, a single figure is seen from above swimming in the outdoor pool at Lake Louise, Alberta. However, too many of the photographs are dull in both concept and tonal range.

Robert Bean gives a twist to his exploration of the built environment by adding the element of colour to his square-format photographs. Two images stand out, one for its beauty and spatial ambiguity, the other for its evocation of place. The first shows a fireman spraying a burning red-shingle house, a rainbow created by the jet of water from his hose. The second shows a line of houses painted in the bright colors which help offset the dreariness of Maritime drizzle.

It is Hartling, however, who is the most successful of the four photographers working in what has been termed the "urban landscape" genre. Through juxtaposition of figures apparently unconscious of each other, he creates ambiguous new relationships, often with sinister overtones. One of his black-and-white images, for example, captures a woman casting a worried glance at a man oblivious to her presence; behind her in shadow can be dimly perceived another figure of whom she is unaware.

In contrast to his colleagues, Wilson explores the natural landscape, alternating panoramas with close-up views, infusing a melancholic beauty into what might otherwise be considered as drab scenes. One particularly expressive image depicts a village and cove from an elevated perspective. The surface quality of the prints is strong. But most importantly, there is a refreshing authenticity to the photographers: they seem to be the photographer's direct response to the environment surrounding him.

The exhibition continues at Optica Gallery, 1029 Beaver Hall Hill, 5th floor, until March 29.
- [Source to be confirmed]