Liquid light: Young reflects on nature

Photograph by David Young.
David Young, "Sugar Hollow, VA–V."

A game I used to play when I was bored in my little hometown was to pretend everything was unfamiliar, that I was walking down a street I'd never seen before, looking at yards in a foreign country. It's no easy feat to convince the mind that the known is unknown, but it makes the world endlessly interesting. And it's a trick photographer David Young has down to a science.

Young, whose exhibition, "Upstream," is currently on view at the C&O Gallery, is particularly adept at looking at creeks and rivers not as water flowing over rocks and sunken detritus but as abstract canvases of shifting patterns, lines, and colors painted and re-painted by reflected light. He conveys his visions by shooting extreme close-ups that capture both the fluid surface and what lies below. He creates his images in-camera, using only the available light with no special filters or lenses.

An ultra-fast shutter speed enables Young to capture the dazzling patterns created by sunlight reflecting off and being refracted by the water. In "Cahaba Glass (AL) II," the water looks like cells. In "Sugar Hollow, VA -V," the shadows and light resemble snakeskin.

Meanwhile, whatever rests on the riverbed appears warped as the refracted light introduces sinuous lines where none actually exist. Young further obscures his sources by blowing up his photographs into oversized prints, where tiny details, like the veins of a blanched leaf, become exaggerated.

Each composition seduces the viewer with rich russets, oranges, yellows, greys, whites, and brilliant greens (perhaps punched up a tad digitally?). But no matter how abstract the overall image is, Young usually includes a clue to its origin–-perhaps an identifiable stem or rock in one corner of the frame.

Young's love for his technique is clear (no pun intended). Like a scientist attuned to minute variations under the microscope, though, he seems oblivious to a certain sameness that begins to creeps in from one image to the next for viewers who are less alert to subtle shifts and changes.

Nevertheless, two images offer a significant departure from Young's passion for fluid abstracts. In "Camp Albemarle, VA I" and "II," Young uses a window's view of interior panes and its simultaneous reflection the exterior environment to create images that surreally blend architecture and landscape. The key again is Young's ability to see the wondrous in the familiar–-and to open our eyes to it.

David Young's photography exhibit, "Upstream," is on view through September 28 at the C&O Gallery, 515 E. Water St. (next to the C&O Restaurant). For further information: