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Sweet Things on paper

The photography of Ashley Miller

“Plunger,” photo by Ashley Miller. Photo courtesy Galerie Fotoland, The Evergreen State College

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The Evergreen State College graduate Ashley Miller has returned with a photography exhibition called Sweet Things in Galerie Fotoland, first floor Library Building.

The press release and a printed statement on the gallery wall refer to her pictures as still-life photography, but although they are formally like traditional still-life arrangements, they are more like satires on traditional still lives with Dadaist juxtapositions of disparate objects. 

"These images work to show how consumerism plays a part in our society and how we all fall victim to it," a printed statement explains.

Miller says, "Modern society is built on overabundance and addiction. This state of anxiety is the starting point for my work, in which I attempt to embrace the tautological regurgitation. After all, I am peddling the fetish."

Traditional still-life paintings fetishize common household items such as candle holders and bowls of fruit, often displayed in tasteful arrangements in front of a luxurious curtain or cascade of silk cloth. They often celebrate wealth and the good life. Miller's photographs put unexpected and sometimes repellent objects in the same kinds of opulent settings.

There is a loaf of moldy green bread displayed in front of royal purple and gold cloth, a pair of pads of the type nursing mothers put in bras, a toilet plunger standing on lacy white material with candy hearts stuck to its handle.

The images are simple and uncluttered; in most displaying only a single object. The focus is sharp, and the colors are bright, with a wet or metallic look. The colors bring to mind the customized cars described in Tom Wolf's book The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby.

Here's a question for contemplation: if Miller is more concerned with idea than aesthetics, as when Marcel Duchamp bought a common urinal from a plumbing supply story and entered it in an art exhibit under the title "Fountain," then is there any reason to actually see the pictures? I could describe them, and there would be no reason for the reader to go to the gallery -- which is why I am not going to describe the false teeth and praying porcelain women and the cherries.

But rest assured, the aesthetic is also important in these photographs. The ideas can be described and grasped with the mind, but the beauty must be taken in with the eyes. They are funny, incisive and easy on the eye. 

ASHLEY MILLER, SWEET THINGS, through May 31, Galerie Fotoland, Library first floor, The Evergreen State College, 2700 Evergreen Parkway NW,

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