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Life Exposed

Karen Savage’s photograms appear as x-rays capturing the experience of her Catholic upbringing.  Baby Dresses, Wedding Dresses, Penance Scarves are exposed for their delicate place in our history.  Each of these pieces tell a story, creating a collection of stories of women we can all identify with, Savage explains to me as we sit in her Oak Park home.

And the City Gallery at the History Water Tower (806 N. Michigan Ave) in Chicago is an appropriate setting for these works to be on display.  Photograms are created by laying something sheer, like an article of clothing on top of photo-sensitive paper then exposing it to light.  What comes out of this process is a ghostly white image floating on a black backdrop.  There is no lens to manipulate, just the remains of a handkerchief, a lace collar or a tablecloth to tell the tale.

The subject matter in Savage’s pieces adds weight to the medium.  The pieces she selects to examine are of the past; items now discarded for her to find in flea markets and thrift shops, like dress gloves and delicate collars and lace table clothes. Full size dresses show the delicacy of the material.  The embroidery of a tablecloth creates an ornately beautiful pattern.

The black and white works are haunting, but it is the lace gloves stopped me in my tracks.  These gloves are an object from the past, captured on a color photo paper; a process no longer available. The red, yellow, purple are made even bolder next to the black and whites.  This series appears to look like each set were just tossed on to a side table or dressing table and making me wonder who worn them and for what occasion.

Savages images tell a story of the past and of the present; a world of celebration and penance – a delicate world unobstructed by any lens.

(This work can be seen at the City Gallery at the Historic Water Tower through May 10, 2010)

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