"Introspective," a solo exhibition of photographic series and videos by Buffalo artist J-M Reed in CEPA Gallery, wastes no time in stating its theme. It opens with a four-minute video of a plane taking off from Boston's Logan International Airport, shot by the artist from his window seat behind the right wing.
The title of the video, "Logan Airport, May 3, 2011, Osama Got Obama'd," gives you several pieces of vital information. It was made the day after bin Laden was killed in a raid in Pakistan and at the same airport where 10 al-Qaida terrorists boarded two of the planes used during the Sept. 11 attacks.
The video -- nothing more than the plane taking off from the runway and sailing through the cloudless sky -- is a strange, soundless and eerily graceful coda to a harrowing decade. It is Reed's introspective introduction to an exhibition that considers not only the defining disaster of our time, but also the forgotten disasters of previous generations and the threat of disasters yet to come.
Reed's work is not "about" those disasters -- at least, not directly -- but instead prompts audiences to think about the way Americans document, depict and react to those disasters -- and what that says about our culture.
The strongest works in the show, to my eye, appear in Reed's "Time Tells a Different Story" and "Stills from the Great American Picture Show" series.
The first contains six images -- some found, some shot by Reed -- that show quotidian scenes where a hint of drama seems to lie in the offing. One features two lovers holding cigarettes while sitting in front of a Christmas tree loaded with tinsel. One shows a red theater curtain about to be parted for a second act. Another depicts a boy and woman smiling next to a car they're about to enter.
In the context of Reed's previous work (which includes large prints of house fires, also on view in the show) and also his "Great American Picture Show" series, you can't help but think each of these images presages some calamity: cancer, a car accident, some other inevitable horror.
The "Picture Show" series is a nightmarish tapestry of destruction in the form of newspaper photographs, which show bodies laid out under white sheets, charred corpses in burned-out cars, a man and woman embracing after some unknown disaster, the tail of a plane poking out from a house it crashed into (echoes of Flight 3407) and a field strewn with debris fallen from the sky.
More than simply pointing up the American fascination with disasters, Reed is trying to show us the ways still images attempt (and often fail) to represent that information in ways that might be useful. His jarring "Picture Show" series, drawn from newspaper archives and other sources, shows the ways accidents and violence were portrayed to previous generations.
Reed's other series in the show, which build curious bridges among subjects as seemingly different as Internet pornography, American-brand nostalgia and the aftermath of the housing bubble, provide plenty of food for thought on their own. But it's Reed's consideration of disaster -- how we depict it, react to it, anticipate it and maybe internalize it -- that makes this show a must-see.
WHEN: Through March 17
WHERE: CEPA Gallery, 617 Main St.
INFO: 856-2717 or www.cepagallery.org