There don’t appear to be many common traits between the photographs of Santa Barbara’s Patricia Houghton Clarke and those of her grandfather, Herbert Houghton Clarke-at least at first glance. Curated by The Indy‘s own Brett Leigh Dicks, the younger Clarke’s latest show dedicates one wall to the work of the elder, whose pictures, taken in Washington State between 1930 and 1940, vaguely resemble the sort of snapshots adorning our grandparents’ walls: casual poses, unprepossessing settings, and outfits straight out of a period film. But observe the shadow and light; there’s clearly a serious eye behind the compositions. There’s a real sense of humor as well, and judging by the rest of the show, these qualities are indeed inherited.
The exhibition is subtitled Homage to My Grandfather but titled Sentimento: Immagini d’Italia, and that’s where the rest of the photographs focus. Patricia Clarke’s 17 black-and-white shots on display were all taken in Italy: Sicily, Todi, Rome, the Amalfi Coast. Some-a distinct minority-simply depict the sort of quaint walkways and facades one might expect from any number of Italian-themed film sets. But what’s genuinely intriguing here is when Clarke puts her Holga camera, one of which sits on display, to less conventional use. Her best technique is joining two separate exposures, their angles distinct and the seam clearly visible in the middle. When this visual trick works, it works well, as in “The Path of Least Resistance,” where two separate alleyways meet in the center, and in “The Band,” which shows a group of musicians coming as well as going.
Clarke also exhibits (and builds on) her grandfather’s eye for just the right quirk. Witness “The Puppeteer,” which shows an elderly man standing proudly beside his table of puppets, either tools or wares (note what appears to be a knock-off Shrek in the lower right), or “Herbs,” which makes an almost abstract pattern of row after row of conical plastic bags of dried plants. The subtly comical tableau is tough for any photographer to pull off, but the Clarkes, with their dreamlike images, do it quite respectably.