Blaise a Trail

Photographer Tobia's work focuses on small details with a big message.

By Roberta Fallon
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Nov. 26, 2008

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This American life: Tobia's photos of everyday objects, including a crushed can (above), point toward the future.

Blaise Tobia's photographic pairings turn the world into a series of unnatural twins. But the artist's twosomes, as well as his single-focused works, evoke serious considerations.

In his digital photography show at Silicon Gallery, the artist and Drexel professor's "Plain and Fancy" exhibit compares textures from the interiors and exteriors of Amish horse-drawn buggies. The large works--which are clipped to the wall unframed--showcase the austere buggy exteriors in extreme close-up, turning straight-edged seams and rivets into lines and dots in an abstract composition.

The interiors are also close-cropped abstractions where pattern-stitched upholstery in hot colors become plush, almost psychedelic wave patterns. I don't know what's more shocking--that the Amish have opulently appointed interiors in their carriages or that Tobia got permission from the reclusive people to take these intimate shots.

The photos raise questions about stereotypes, and while it's true that studying anything on an intimate level will reveal surprises, Tobia's choice of the religious separatists at this time in history reverberates in a world far wider than Lancaster County.

Tobia's strength is in his quirky eye, which is drawn to odd bits of infrastructure, random juxtapositions and man-made textures. In his series of 20 street photos, also unframed and pinned to the wall, he finds concordance in circles, lines, mirrors and signs. While formal in nature, these photos are also portraits of Everycity in old age, where crumbling stucco, peeling paint, bricked-up windows and graffiti become wrinkles on the face of one you love.

While each image stands alone, the strength is in reading the images side by side as a narrative without words, a tale of a city.

While Tobia doesn't insert human figures into these works, the human spirit is implied everywhere. And the artist is actually a great portrait photographer, as he shows in his recent book, The Castle of Euphemio, and in new photos based on a trip to China. It'd be interesting to see these photos and the depopulated pieces exhibited together at some point.

Scanned objects floating on fields of velvety black make up a third body of work in the show. These large iconic images of everyday objects--a grid of animal crackers, a saw blade, a slide rule, a circuit board, a crushed soda can--are both personal to the artist and universal symbols of work, consumption, childhood and technology. Like "Fanfare for the Common Man," they're both elegiac and triumphant. Their praise of human achievement points to the future.

The show in Silicon's large, wood-floored workroom, where huge digital printers, paper cutters and flat files vie for attention below the prints, lends the show an immediacy that a pristine gallery space would not. While not quite a studio visit, a trip to this show conveys an artist at work sharing his new efforts.

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