Photos show beauty in sadness

By Amanda Benedetto | March 25, 2004

It's about time! Michelle Tecco's photography display, "Breathing Underwater," evokes emotion and sensitivity uncommon to any other photography exhibit. In the large, white-walled gallery of Mission Media Space in Mt. Vernon, Tecco's photographs hang, small in size, yet endless in meaning. Each wall of the exhibit exemplifies an aspect of life different from the next, but these aspects unite by the end of the show.

The display begins with a wall of "Untitled Polaroids." The first few are abstract images of undeterminable subjects. The next few are more obvious: the corner of a room, a hanging piece of lingerie, a woman taking a photograph. The beauty of these images lies in their simplicity and Tecco's use of light and shadows, as well as her use of texture, which reaches out to the eyes with an almost tactile sensation. She makes even the most mundane scenes come to life, but this life is not full of happiness. It is a life of darkness and serenity, which is brought forth through a minimal amount of light and a portrayal of loneliness in each pictured object.

The next wall holds a series of photographs rich in color and in depth. In the photograph entitled, "Self Portrait with Red Bush," an array of deep red flowers covers the surface, with a dark shadow of a woman and her camera. Tecco puts herself in the picture only through a shadowy darkness that comes through among the flowers. As a photographer hides behind the camera in life, Tecco is hiding behind it in her work. But it is beautiful. A neon- green rope lies lifelessly on a withered wooden dock in one photograph, and an unlit beach contains no sunbathers in another, perhaps to express that in beauty, there is sadness, and in sadness, there is beauty.

On a wall by itself hangs a brightly colored photograph of a grand ballroom, ornately decorated and perfectly designed. But no one is dancing, or sitting, or socializing. It is empty. This image contrasts with that of the car wash, which looks used and almost loved, as if to say that wealth does not signify happiness.

The final wall contains mostly black and white images, and although these contain children in their everyday lives, not one of them is smiling. In the photograph, "East Baltimore Street," there are two young African- American boys standing on a basketball court. The court is covered with graffiti and the basketball hoop is almost entirely broken. The boys stand with their basketball and stare blankly into the camera.

Other photographs contain a broken down house with an empty rocking chair in front, and a child in a bathing suit standing beside an above-ground pool. These gloomy images, with only small inklings of actual light, evoke a sense of shared misery for the poor children without smiles on their faces. But Tecco's juxtaposition of young, promising individuals beside old, broken objects gives the impression of hope and survival in a world of negativity and doubt.

The children may not be smiling, but they are standing, heads held high. A woman swimming underwater with just a toe reaching above the surface reflects the idea that she is working to stay afloat; even if just by one toe. The show continues with colorless photographs in which Tecco's brilliant use of light and dark depict human beings in the real world, who, in a sense, attempt to breathe underwater.

The show unifies personal images and universal images by evoking similar emotions from each. This technique may intentionally capture the attention of any viewer. I exited the gallery with conflicting emotions--not about her work, but about her depiction of life. It was almost a feeling of calmness, loneliness, beauty and sadness, all feelings that were exuded in large quantities from Tecco's photographs.

And as I wandered through the streets of Baltimore feeling all these different things, I realized that my experience at that moment was the purpose of her exhibit.

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