written by Katherine Lauricella

Painted Windows is an exhibition by artist-in-residence and photographer Ama Torres. Torres’ recent body of photographs finds beauty in quotidian life during her time spent traveling around Europe and Japan, two countries with cultures caught squarely between modernity and ancient tradition.

The images frequently call attention to the ways in which nature and technology interact and balance each other, as well as how wildlife grows in to frame infrastructure such as pipes and electrical boxes. The technology partnered with signage and architecture grounds each image squarely in a contemporary moment, and yet save for these details the photographs evoke a sense of timelessness due to their lack of human presence and emphasis on quiet intimate public spaces.

Photography as a medium has historically been burdened with its ability to reveal truth; a photograph itself functions as sufficient evidence in many cases that something existed or took place. In the essay for his photography book Mirrors and Windows: American Photography Since 1960, John Szarkowski pinpoints the self-decreed purpose of certain photographers to “act as a trustworthy interpreter of the events and issues [she] was privileged to witness.” Szarkowksi further proposes that contemporary photography falls within two poles on an axis between those who use photography to convey self-expression, and those who use it for the sake of external exploration; some photographers use the medium as a window, and some use it as a mirror.

Torres falls evenly between the two poles along the axis, as her photographs are deeply personal despite their focus on documenting public spaces and infrastructure. She locates her subjects in the innocuous and overlooked motifs of everyday life that passersby may not find remarkable. The subject of each image is plainly obvious—a bright blue garbage net on a street in Japan, a wooden doorway in the French countryside, etc.—and yet it presents a dichotomy for the viewer. One looking at the image understands that the subject is beautiful, and yet recognizes they might not have taken notice if they were to walk past the place itself.

There exists a strong degree of the ethereal in all of Torres’ photographs as she quickly and somewhat indiscriminately captures times of day, brief periods in a rapidly changing culture and society, the artist herself at a time in her life she can never recapture. Each image depends on the energy of a moment and thereafter goes unedited. Hidden self-portraits throughout offer viewers a sense of the photographer fitting into the landscape she explores, and convey either a sense of isolation or integration. The portraits often manifest as shadows or reflections, communicating Torres’ presence within the landscape indexically, and subsequently reminding the viewer that with each image she simultaneously explores and engages both the world around her and the self.

Chinatown Soup