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photo-eye Book Reviews: Elsewhere

Elsewhere, Photographs by Nealy Blau.
Published by Decode Books, 2010.
Reviewed by Nicholas Chiarella
Nealy Blau Elsewhere
Photographs by Nealy Blau.
Decode Books, 2010. Hardbound. 64 pp., 30 color illustrations, 11x11".

Nealy Blau's Elsewhere represents the wonderful play of possibility between the natural and the artificial. The full-color, analog photographs document diorama in natural history museums, masking through framing and focus the constructed nature of their subject matter. However, the images avoid becoming mere traps of illusion. Instead, they propel the viewer into the exciting and open spaces created by the gaps and gradients existing between the concepts of real and imagined.

The care for color and composition in these images is so great that one might accidentally overlook the photographer's skill, especially considering that the originals are entirely analog. This care pays off, though, for the images hardly call attention to themselves as photographs of diorama, though a few allow for reflections of light on glass or other hints as to their construction. Fake fauna, painted backgrounds, and subtle blends of natural-seeming and tungsten lights let the viewer into the illusion, but Blau's careful focus and the stunning detail of the diorama themselves are equally convincing of reality. In one image, the coins of passersby and a discarded water bottle suggest that the natural environment might even be represented more accurately than anyone truly desires. Through these images, the viewer suspends equally belief and disbelief.

Elsewhere, by Nealy Blau. Published by Decode Books, 2010.
Elsewhere, by Nealy Blau. Published by Decode Books, 2010.
 By way of this suspension, one is given a sophisticated revisiting of childhood perception, wherein experience is evaluated more openly, perhaps more directly. What is seen is unobstructed by interpretation and bothersome questions of what is real or natural or constructed or imagined. Or rather, one is able to ask all of these questions at once and answer them only insofar as those answers are useful to further play and investigation. As Blau says, "I'm not interested in trying to trick people - it's not satisfying to me to trick people. I like to present more of a puzzle." These photographs are most exceedingly puzzles - tools and toys for evaluation of how we perceive and construct the meaning of our surrounding environments, or as Blau describes the process, "conjuring views, playing with our perception of nature, of our world." The viewer is excused from drawing conclusions in order to simply look, think, and feel.—Nicholas Chiarella

Nicholas Chiarella is the imaging specialist at the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His poems and photographs have appeared in Santa Fe Trend, BathHouse, Slideluck Potshow Santa Fe, and other venues. He is a member of Meow Wolf artist collective, contributing technical and design skills to performance and art installations. Chiarella graduated from the St. John's College GI program in 2007. He can be reached at