SCENT OF AN ARTIST

On a purely sensory plane, the gallery visitor is left with a feeling of having stumbled into some medieval alchemist's laboratory. If you can't respond to this show intellectually, it's worth seeing just for its purely sensual qualities. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the photographic work of Frank Martin, being shown concurrently at Sette under the title "Searching for the Peaks." Martin's work brings to mind that old art adage: "If it's bad, make it bigger." And that's just what he's done.

Martin, who lives and works in Houston as a professional photographer, has made huge, overexposed silver gelatin enlargements of mostly very boring landscapes, areas of which he chemically bleaches and tones to achieve a mottled, sometimes cloudy, effect. He then mounts the manipulated prints on unstretched canvas and calls them photographic monoprints.

I guess he thinks we'll be fooled into thinking that the prints have a painterly quality that transcends the photographic medium. The artist obviously is not convinced that unmanipulated photography can be fine art.

The problem with Martin's work is that, once you take away all the manipulation and the unstretched canvas, you're back to what you started with--those boring landscapes. Yes, I, too, was impressed by that July/August 1986 article in Darkroom Photography on bleaching, toning and redeveloping for painterly effects. But in this case, form does not overcome substance. Bottom line, Martin needs to be more concerned with content than process.

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