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Seen in the 'Hood

Art Review: Mary Zompetti Lowe, 215 College Gallery


Published April 6, 2011 at 6:37 a.m.

“Don’t Leave The Mail Here”
  • “Don’t Leave The Mail Here”

Mary Zompetti Lowe’s exhibition of vivid color photographs at 215 College Gallery traverses the cracked sidewalks and fenced yards of a world both familiar and mysterious: a residential neighborhood. At first, it’s difficult to tell if these scenes are real or artificial; picket fences, birdhouses and lawn furniture seem plastic and toy-like, or like carefully composed movie sets. In truth, Zompetti Lowe photographed the homes and yards of Burlington’s New North End using a tilt-shift lens that blurs the image in places and an open aperture that allows sharp focus elsewhere. As a result, the pictures distort the viewer’s sense of perspective, unmooring us from reality, while allowing a peek into the semiprivate lives of the neighbors.

The artist knows her way around a camera — she’s the program director at Burlington City Arts’ community darkroom and a photography instructor at Champlain College and the Community College of Vermont. In this exhibit, 24 meticulously crafted larger images, as well as 50 small vignettes, shot using an old ground-glass lens, fill the gallery space. In each, the focus, depth of field, blur, color and composition come together expertly. Zompetti Lowe’s facility with her medium results in artistic clarity and, in this series, images that exude a perfect, eerie stillness.

In “You’re Finally Home,” a large tree anchors the left side of the photo, the lush canopy encircling the top half of the image. A swath of velvety green lawn in the middle ground gives way to a blurry car parked in front of a garage in the distance. To the right, the frames of windows along the side of a clapboard house seem to yawn. The home casts an angular shadow across the right third of the lawn, while the brilliantly lit, emerald expanse in the middle is finely focused. Simultaneously mundane and strange, the scene combines with the slightly low perspective to create a feeling of forbidden voyeurism. The photographer hovers on the boundary between public and private space, evoking the bald curiosity and guilty pleasure of the peeping Tom.

Fences and sidewalks recur in these works as physical demarcations between public and private space. Birdhouses also figure prominently in several works — does the artist mean to signify her longing for an unfettered view of the world? In “You Can See Everything From Up Here,” a birdhouse hangs on a swooping tree branch. The birdhouse is isolated and elevated, a solitary outpost suspended against a broad sky.

In her artist’s statement, Zompetti Lowe writes, “There is a sense of privacy in these spaces, even though everything can so easily be seen from the road, the adjoining yard, or the second floor of the neighbor’s house.” She injects sly humor into her images. The cleverly titled “Not Much of an Ottoman” features an upholstered chair perched on the grass between the sidewalk and street, a potato box upturned before it.

“And then…” is a fitting title for Zompetti Lowe’s exhibition, as her images are ripe with the expectant sense of watching to see what happens next in these evocative scenes.