Culture- ART FEATURE- One shot wonders: Knill's surreal focus<span class="s1">

When contemplating how to describe the imagination of photographer Joachim Knill, whose work is on view at Migration: A Gallery, all the clichéd adjectives— "fertile," "active," "juicy," "boundless"— seem way too puny. Which makes sense when you consider that even the largest industrial Polaroid camera wasn't large enough to capture Knill's visions. He had to build his own.

Say "Polaroid" and most people envision waving a hand-sized snapshot in the air, drying it as the image emerges (prompting OutKast to sing, "Sh-sh-sh-shake it like a Polaroid picture"). But what Knill's 20" x 30" single-exposure photographs have in common with those pics is what the Grand Canyon shares with a creek bed— i.e. they're technically created the same way, but the former is, how shall we say, considerably more eye-popping.

The high resolution and vivid colors of Knill's oversized Polaroids, amplified by carefully orchestrated lighting, intensify the otherwordliness of his subject matter. Like Gregory Crewdson, Lori Nix, and Joel Peter Witkin, Knill uses stagecraft to construct elaborate scenes that carry photography beyond documentary into a surreal realm that upends expectations of photographic "truth."

His compositions play off viewers' sentimentality and familiarity with certain images (e.g., classic Dutch still lifes or precarious bridge crossings in adventure movies). But he humorously replaces landscape elements and human actors with pieces of fruit and other found objects. Knill's masterful manipulation of perspective simultaneously propels viewers into his surreal scenes while giving the impression that the action is about to burst out of the frame.

In "Tomato Crossing," Knill uses gnarled wood to create a treacherous gorge, illuminated from below, into which unfortunate tomatoes plunge, appearing to have slipped through a break in a rickety bridge spanning the chasm. In the foreground, beneath a blinding turquoise sky, a lusciously red tomato sits at one end of the bridge droplets of water glistening on its skin like nervous sweat. Smiling at the sheer silliness of the fantasy, the viewer nevertheless feels an involuntary rush of sympathy for the endangered ‘maters (and, in a sick way, hungers to see the splat below).

Elsewhere Knill is more serious. "Quagmire" depicts the topsy-turvy interior of a house literally coming apart at the seams. Here Knill foregoes his usual sci-fi palette in favor of ash-white and sepia tones, creating a tense image with numerous symbolic references to 9/11 and its aftermath. In this case, his outsized fantasy is all too proportionately real.

Joachim Knill's Polaroid photographs are on view at Migration: A Gallery through February 1. 119 5th St. 293-2200.