Chris Messner’s photographs translate details into found art by isolating features of architecture and natural scenes and treating them as elements of composition. It is possible to view the results as mere decorative objects, an impression strengthened by their display in a retail setting. But a more thoughtful examination reveals Messner’s eye for provocative visual relationships, and his effort to honor the grandeur of the world around us.
Messner shoots 35mm slides, and does not alter the images digitally. It is plain that he has a strong compositional instinct. Much of the current exhibit consists of architectural photographs taken in Japan, Fort Worth, and Los Angeles. It is often impossible to tell where the individual pictures were shot without consulting the information cards. The jumbled facets of a multiangular building in “Downtown Kyoto Mall” resemble a cubistic sculpture. Intersecting office buildings in “Fort Worth” could have been taken down the street from the vertically parallel skyscrapers of “Little Tokyo,” shot in downtown L.A. The centerpiece of the exhibit, “Urban Creation,” suggests an elusive artistic statement. It captures a detail of the fa§ade of the Bass Brothers’ building in Fort Worth: a bouquet of stylized skyscrapers above the marquee. Just visible to the marquee’s right is the skyward-pointing arm of a winged figure adorning the entrance of the otherwise hidden Fort Worth Opera House.
There are questions in these details, and they multiply. A “Blue Umbrella” hangs upside down from the balcony of an apartment building in Mito, Japan. Beneath a giant, red-and-black array of Japanese billboard characters in “Downtown Tokyo Sign,” a blue lamppost bends like a burdened man searching for answers. Perhaps the beginnings of answers are found in Messner’s photographs of natural phenomena: a fractal-like confusion of black branches limned with snow in “La Cumbre Peak Snow,” the ineffectual boundary of a barbed-wire fence pursuing the contours of wheat fields beneath an overwhelming sky in “Ranch Rail Skies Forever.” Or perhaps the clearest answer lies in the deep respect for found beauty quietly evident throughout the exhibit.