by Paulette Thenhaus
For more than a decade, Tom Foley has photographed society’s discards — in plainer words, trash — just as he happened upon it. But for his solo show at the Buchanan Center for the Arts in Monmouth it appears that he’s ready to discard his past pursuit in favor of a more formalist view.
The majority of black and white photographs are pristine close-ups concentrating on the line, shape, texture of industrial building materials. Stains, rivets, grain on metal, concrete and wood are all in sharp focus. They are straight-forward studies, referring back to a mid-20th century interest in close-up, sharp-contrast images of nature and industry. Working in that tradition, Foley rejects the digital phenomena in his art shots and prefers processing and printing his own roll film. And so doing, controls his film and image quality.
For me though, the real interest is where his “trash photos” resurface in photo collage. They do so in various pieces. In “V.O.P. call 11” (V.O.P refers to Village of Oak Park where many of the prints are taken) the actual litter is alive with graphic images — Fritos bag, Charles Schwann ad, a pasta wrapper inter-mixed with crumpled tissue, glass and plastic. Here the tonal contrasts of solarization and the scale of the randomly juxtaposed graphics and textures is intriguing. A visual time capsule is created, though the composition owes no thanks to logical planning...just to the eye that framed it.
“Drop” Nov. 2004 Lab Scrapes” is actually a mini installation. A photograph of darkroom trash (remember when everyone had a basement darkroom?) hangs above the actual, chemically stained trash topped with a metal film canister. The heap sits on the gallery carpet. Here the concept of the illusion of photography and the reality of the object come into play. Also, the photographer has personalized a real aspect of his own professional life.
Another image that plays on the idea of illusion and reality is “V.O.P. wire II 2”. A small silver gelatin composition of a fallen wire tomato cage leans against stone blocks and loose bricks. The dark circular lines of the wire cast a long fine shadow against the stones. Which is more real, the shadow or the object that casts it? Within a photograph they hold the same "reality" weight. In this particular photograph, the shadow is the more interesting.
Though many of the works can be appreciated for their spontaneity and wit, a large floor piece of 8” x 10” prints of the Peace Sign, spontaneously drawn in the dark room, seemed to me more derogatory of the symbol than a positive affirmation of it.
With this exhibit, Foley proves he can pull a first-rate “straight” print. He has also shown he can cover new ground with his traditional imagery. This could be the crossroads where the artist decides what concepts to “discard” and which to refine and pursue in new formats.
“Time and Change” photographs by Tom Foley are on display at Buchanan Center for the Arts, 64 Public Square, Monmouth, Illinois, till February 4. More info? Call (309) 734-3033.
124 E. Simmons St., Galesburg
Harland and Joanne Goudie will host a reception for their paintings of Galesburg places on Friday, January 20th from 4-6pm.
Ford Center for the Fine Arts
Knox College Art Faculty Show reception: Friday, Jan. 27, 6-8pm.
Hewes Library–Len G. Everett Galleries
Rob & Lori Reed host a reception for “Rock-Pixel-Scissors” on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2-4pm.
319 E. Main St., Galesburg
Ron Hunt, watercolor and John Van Kirk, photography, on exhibit through January.