CULTURE- ART FEATURE- Buzz-worthy: Lasko's at home in the hive
When musician Jay Pun alerted me his sister-in-law, Britta-Lena Lasko, would be exhibiting beekeeping photographs and handmade brooms at the C&O Gallery, I admit I was initially skeptical. "Bees & Brooms" ...hmmm. But as soon as I received materials from Lasko herself, the attention to detail and composition in the announcement shifted my skepticism to curiosity.
Refreshingly unusual and thoughtfully put together, the show comprises black and white photographs documenting apiarian culture, along with a handful of hand-tinted images. Select quotes from the beekeepers Lasko profiles hang below most of the images, providing insights and glimpses of individual personalities. Interspersed between the frames, Lasko's brooms, crafted from gnarled branches, provide an interesting counterpoint that is surprisingly unifying rather than dissonant.
For the most part, Lasko's photographs, though beautifully composed and printed, fall within the realm of photojournalism rather than fine art photography. They would be appropriate, say, for a National Geographic article on beekeeping (although Natty Geo would probably want Lasko to shoot in color, which might compromise her vision). Her skill at identifying informative quotes, in fact, had me yearning to read any "photos and text by" story she might write.
A few of her images, however, work as stand-alone pieces. Her portrait of Diana Boller, outfitted in a spaceman-like white beekeeping suit and holding up a frame of honeycomb crawling with bees, is compelling in its centered composition. Lasko reveals her skill at manipulating highlights and lowlights, purposefully eliding the dark mesh of Boller's mask with the trees in the background and visually allying the beekeeper with the insects swarming on the screen. Likewise her photograph of Michael Swanson, who wears no protective clothing in his wooded apiary, is gorgeous in its tonal array.
My favorite pieces in the show, though, are Lasko's four hand-tinted photographs, which are easy to miss because they are so subtle. Using colored pencils, Lasko enhances black-and-white images with ethereal touches to create dreamlike landscapes. Her image of stacked white apiary boxes, a few of them tinted pale citrine green, sitting in green grass against a subtly tinged leafy background is particularly lovely.
In contrast to such fleeting delicacy, Lasko's handcrafted brooms exude an organic presence. Lasko takes advantage of the natural twists and knots of branches for her handles and often leaves the wispy broomcorn fronds uncut in the brushy bottoms. She skillfully imbues each broom with a unique character, as diverse from one to the next as the individual beekeepers in her photographs.
Britta-Lena Lasko's exhibition, "Bees & Brooms," is on view through January 30 at the C&O Gallery. 515 E. Water St. (next to the C&O Restaurant). 540-219-1442.