Slipping away: Photos catch life on the sly

World traveler and photographer Will Kerner returns to the McGuffey with an exhibit of photos from Guatemala and Argentina. As with his previous Cuban spread, Kerner finds much that catches his eye just walking along the street. His subjects here are sidewalk denizens— street vendors, transients, passers-by— though Kerner seems at least equally interested in the colorful streets and buildings themselves. Preferring the medium and medium-long shot in nearly every photo, Kerner makes sure that he captures the locals in their immediate environment.
It’s no surprise what attracts Kerner to these streets. Unlike the more modest palette along Charlottesville streets— the tans and grays of the buildings and the grays, whites, blacks, and khakis of the clothes— the streets Kerner finds in Guatemala and Argentina are electric with color. In nearly every photo, Kerner places people in these bright surroundings in a way that gives equal emphasis to each.
In “I feel life is slipping away,” shoe recyclers sit around an antiquated sewing machine with piles of athletic shoes and sandals at their feet. Behind them, running up the wall and setting the frame of the photo, a spread of graffiti in shouting pinks, yellows, greens, and reds. “Boys, La Boca, Buenos Aires, Argentina” finds a small group of young boys looking much smaller as they sit on oversized steps which stretch several feet on either side of them. The yellows in their t-shirts and jerseys pick up the yellows of the multi-colored building-block-shaped apartments just behind them.
If anything takes away from Kerner’s work, it’s a certain distance he cultivates, perhaps in the service of a more documentarian impulse. Kerner’s medium to medium-long shots allow him to cram in a fair amount of background, which contrasts with the worn, blank expressions and far-away gazes of people mired in banal, everyday activities. But they seem to come, at times, at the expense of sharp, close images, the sort that are typical to really striking photos.
There are some photos that really have managed this closeness and insight, such as “Farmer, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina,” which moves away from the colorful street for a moment, and frames a farmer in the dark, cave-like overhang of his barn. Other photos appear hazy, as if taken in passing. Kerner seems to want to pass in and out of these places like a thief. Ironically, it’s his distance that has left a mark on these pictures. 

At the McGuffey Art Center, Will Kerner’s “Photographs from Guatemala and Argentina.” Through June 29. 201 Second St. NW. 295-7973.

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