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Craven Allen exhibit blends fantasy into the everyday

Have you ever had the urge to sit outside in the rain at night and take pictures of your mother’s patio furniture?

Photographer MJ Sharp has, and the result is nothing short of breathtaking. In her exhibit Light Cache, now featured at the Craven Allen Gallery near East Campus, Sharp experiments with long-exposure photography, an art that utilizes the interplay of light and dark. The exhibit, co-curated by Sharp and Frank Konhaus, is a unique collection of images that use nighttime light—a car’s headlights, a refrigerator light, the light of the moon—to create scenes that could not otherwise be seen with the naked eye.

Her photograph of patio furniture, for example, is no ordinary composition. The sky is an eerie green, the trees around the patio are shrouded in an ethereal mist and the furniture itself hunches, human-like, at the center of the scene. In the caption for “Sailing Patio,” Sharp describes the atmosphere as “gossamer” and “glistening,” an effect created by taking long exposures in rain with a mid-century bellows camera. The scene, despite originating in her own backyard, is one ripped straight from a fairytale.

Take “Purple Coneflowers.” Shot in Sharp’s neighbor’s garden, the piece at first seems ordinary: a group of flowers, a house, sunshine. But if you look closer, something is off. This is because the picture was actually captured in the dead of night; the only visible light in the photo comes from a motion light on the neighbor’s porch. Using this artificial gleam, Sharp creates a scene with a vulnerable quality that makes the petals of each flower look as though they’re made of glass. This unusual approach skillfully depicts the dichotomy of light and dark, and the beauty of life as well as its fragility.

Sharp’s photography resonates not only for its beauty, but also because many of her photos were taken in Durham. Sharp, who attended Duke as an undergraduate and worked as a staff photographer for the Independent Weekly, photographs the parts of Durham that others may overlook: a white storage pod in an open field, overgrown weeds by a section of wire fence, a stretch of woods on Highway 70. Each photo is striking, giving life to a scene that would otherwise be left in shadow.

Sharp’s collection illuminates the mundane, transforming ordinary settings into scenes that haunt and inspire. If nothing else, Light Cache will make you look at rainy nights with a little more appreciation.

Light Cache will be shown at the Craven Allen Gallery, at 1106 Broad Street, until Jan. 28.


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