Flowing through the first and second floors of the CEPA Gallery on Main Street, photographer Scott Gable’s “Rice” contains luscious and vibrant images of nearly every aspect of rice production. The exhibit attempts an examination of the complex cycle from planting through distributing one of world’s most devoured grains by illuminating the human, cultural and mechanical means involved.
Interested in industrialization and food consumption, Gable has previously explored how those processes affect each other. He produced a project on the experiences of workers at the Bethlehem Steel plant, and also created another depicting the annual consumption of particular foods in the United States. With “Rice,” he continues to examine this intersection of agriculture by capturing images over four months in six Asian countries.
Gable has assembled an overview of the exhibit with the 10 photos in the Flux Gallery on the first floor, mixing luscious landscapes and sun-drenched workers in the fields. The portraits are particularly attractive, thanks to a vital energy that pours from the prints, even as a mundane or arduous task is depicted. The landscapes are verdant and bucolic.
In particular, the second print from the left of the Main Street window captures the tension of the exhibit, balancing dark storm clouds and a lively field with a dark landscape, a distant worker in silhouette, and a light sky. In the center of the piece is a paused farmer, in dramatic shadow and stark light that invites reflection on the process of farming, and implores consideration of the farmer in relation to the food. This print is so close to the front window that whatever foot traffic the 600 block of Main Street is getting will be treated to one of the most striking photos in the exhibit.
The silence of the Flux Gallery is broken on the second floor in the Passageway Gallery, as drumming from the soundtrack of a video spills out into the corridor. In part because of this soundtrack, but also because of the pieces, the Passageway Gallery has more propulsive energy.
Portraits, such as one of a worker with a covered face, holding a scythe in front of the sun, put the questions and contemplation from the lower gallery into action, and more perspective.
The video provides more than propulsive audio. Composed of still images and video, and edited closely to the beat, the piece pulls the strands of culture, farm work and commerce together by providing the only images in the exhibit of rice being packaged, sold, distributed and prepared. Photographs in both galleries open up to a broader context with this video, and their lively colors and pastoral settings granting a sense of place to the processing and the work that people do to feed themselves and the world.
There is no denying the dynamic images that Gable has created in his pursuit of rice, but leaving the video to do the heavy lifting on the farm-to-table theme of the exhibit is a mistake. It is often unclear if a photo celebrates or interrogates the circumstances captured in the frame.
Without additional context from still photos, the way rice makes it from those fields to the world beyond is still vague, shortchanging that process and the people involved.
What: “Rice,” by Scott Gable
When: Through Aug. 17
Where: CEPA Gallery, 617 Main St.