WINCHESTER — Formally, Michal Greenboim does something very simple with her “Orchard Trails.” It’s one of three shows currently at the Griffin Museum of Photography. They run through March 4.
“Orchard Trails” consists of 19 diptychs, all horizontal in orientation, with the two images adjoining. All of the photographs are in color, in white frames, surrounded by white borders. With one exception, the diptychs are 24 inches by 8 inches. The exception is 36 inches by 17 inches. Called “Parking — Piano,” it’s also an exception in that the two photographs in the diptych aren’t of equal size.
Content is where complexity comes in. Greenboim, an Israeli-born photographer who now lives in California, plays off of uniform presentation with highly varied subject matter. “Parking — Piano,” for example, shows a hand at a keyboard on the right, and on the left, the sort of white markings that designate spaces in a parking lot. On closer inspection, though, the markings appear to be underwater. Are they lanes in a swimming pool? Has there been a flash flood?
They’re not questions Greenboim answers. That’s OK, since a viewer is unlikely to pose them. The two images just feel right together, the way a pair of musical notes can.
The diptychs’ appeal, which is considerable, isn’t about specificity and meaning. It’s emotional evocation and visual complementarity. Greenboim shoots her subjects up close, and those subjects can be as immaterial as raindrops and shadows or as palpable as a coffee cup and leaves. Detail and mood matter most to her, the former inspiring the latter.
Sometimes the pairings are a natural match: snow and a white pillow. Others, like “Tool Box — Purple Jellyfish,” would seem almost antically mismatched — except that they’re not. Through some combination of eye, imagination, and instinct — all right, call it talent — Greenboim makes them work.
Michael Kirchoff’s “Sanctuary” comprises 10 black-and-white landscapes and nature studies. The photographs can be overly poetical and a bit too stylized for their own good, but not always. Kirchoff likes to do things like distress surfaces, use wide-angle lenses, and shoot from unexpected angles. He shoots a redwood tree from its base, looking up, and the picture is a knockout. Conversely, he shoots a sunflower in a field of grasses full on and centered — as straightforward as a handshake — and it, too, is a knockout.
There are 67 works in “Holly Roberts: 33 Years.” Roberts employs photography and painting and elements of collage to come up with images that look much more like paintings than photographs. One of Paula Tognarelli’s strengths as head of the Griffin has been an unwillingness to construe photograph narrowly, and that’s certainly the case here.
Sometimes the original photograph or photographs peek through in a given image. The visual origin of the ovum in “Ovum and Sperm” is a large ball of barbed wire that Roberts saw by the side of the road. Or there’s the photograph of a tree that dominates “Leaving Paradise,” Roberts’s rendering of the Adam and Eve story.
Roberts is from New Mexico, and the influence of Southwestern pictographs is evident in the work. So is that of Surrealism and, early on, Francis Bacon. She’s partial to animals: horses, dogs, coyotes, birds. Transformation — of identity, of species, and, of course, medium — is her abiding subject. The transformations are invariably off. Although this can raise all sorts of interesting thematic issues, it gets wearying visually. Put another way, maladroitness, when intentional, can pack a real punch. When it isn’t, it doesn’t.
ORCHARD TRAIL: Photographs by Michal Greenboim
SANCTUARY: Photographs by Michael Kirchoff
HOLLY ROBERTS: 33 YEARS
Griffin Museum of Photography, 67 Shore Road, Winchester, through March 4. 781-729-1158, griffinmuseum.orgMark Feeney can be reached at email@example.com.