Kelli Connell applies digital magic to photos

"Windowsill," a photograph by Kelli Connell, is part of an exhibition of her work at Gallery 339.
"Windowsill," a photograph by Kelli Connell, is part of an exhibition of her work at Gallery 339.
Posted: June 03, 2012

Most people who walk into Gallery 339 and see Kelli Connell’s large color photographs of two blond-haired women in various intimate tableaux will assume that they’re seeing two individuals in a relationship who just happen to look remarkably alike. Or that the two are twins and the images of affectionate moments between them were staged by Connell. But what Connell has done is far more intriguing — she has used only one model. Her scenes are in fact digital assemblages of multiple images, put together so seamlessly that they appear to be one picture.

What seems to me the most interesting aspect of her invented scenes, once you learn that they depict a single person in two roles, is the way she has managed to portray two distinct personalities and roles in a relationship. One woman seems female in the conventional sense, the other a more conventionally masculine type. Then again, maybe it is you, the viewer, and not Connell, who is doing the gender stereotyping.

In Connell’s book of this series, Double Life, published by Decode books in 2011, I saw one steamy image that was not included in her show, and wondered if the gallery chose to avoid a potential controversy (the show is installed in the front room, which has windows on both 21st Street and Pine Street, and is visible to passersby). Funny to think that it was actually only one nude woman that might have caused a fuss.

Andrea Modica’s new series, "Best Friends," in 339’s back gallery, comprises black-and-white prints of high school students in Italy and the United States, each one a revealing portrait of two friends.

Because Modica shot her portraits with an 8x10 camera, which requires a longer exposure time than most, she was often able to illuminate her subjects’ inner lives beyond their typical adolescent behaviors.

Her photographs capture an incredibly broad range of young people and the tribes they belong to — preppy, arty, nerdy, disaffected — and at the same time, they show how kids, even the most rebellious of them, seek absolute commonality with their friends.

Gallery 339, 339 S. 21st St., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. 215-731-1530 or Through July 21.

Zoo story

What’s summer without an animal show (or two or three)?

James Oliver Gallery is the latest to get on the animal bandwagon with "Animal Issue," of works by Emily Bowser, Lars Kremer, Jessica Nissen, and Alex Spinney.

The merry-go-round meets the American Indian totem in Bowser’s vertical, multipart sculpture on a wood base that can be moved, but her abstract paintings of plaid patterns seem out of place in this show.

Kremer’s startling black-and-white photo montages of dozens of figures assembled in the shapes of a bull and a hog, both self-portraits, are the most unusual and carefully made interpretations of the show’s theme. Kremer is also showing color photographs in light boxes from his "Specimens" series, in which single, isolated images of a cockroach, a hornet, a damselfly, and a cicada are intended as portraits of his friends.

Peacocks, owls, and other distinguished birds look just like painted portraits of long-gone relatives in Spinney’s large oil paintings of them as seen from close up. Philadelphians might be reminded of Tom Palmore’s paintings of anthropomorphized gorillas and other critters, but Spinney has a more Pop take than Palmore, and her creatures are not as uncannily lifelike as his.

Nissen’s paintings of entangled stuffed animals and some real ones rendered in a screamingly hot pink, — and, in one, a green blue — are simultaneously funny, sad, and revolting, as she surely intends them to be.

James Oliver Gallery, 723 Chestnut St., Wednesdays through Fridays 3 to 8 p.m., Saturdays 12 to 8 p.m. 267-918-7432 or . Through June 23.

Diamond jubilee

Every six months or so, Fleisher/Ollman Gallery looks through its holdings and comes up with an appropriate theme for an encyclopedic show. This summer, said show celebrates the gallery’s 60-year history (first as the venerated Janet Fleisher Gallery, and later under its current name) with the works of 60 artists associated with the gallery during that time.

Some of my favorite discoveries include Miyoko Ito’s colorful painting of minimalist forms, Untitled (No. 27), from 1975, Kamante Gatura’s marker drawing Three Warthogs, made in 1980, and Dick Murumuru’s pigment-on-wood painting of baby kangaroos, Two Joeys, circa 1940.

Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, 1616 Walnut St., 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays (summer hours). 215-545-7562 or Through Saturday.

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