Picture Alfred Hitchcock's sinister 1943 Shadow of a Doubt and Walker Evans' portraits of New York subway riders taken between 1938 and 1941 (he kept a camera in his coat and caught his subjects sitting across the aisle off-guard, but looking suspiciously prepared). They're the two obvious ancestors of photographer Ditta Baron Hoeber's mysterious serial cellphone photographs of the interiors of trains, which make up her exhibition "Proximity" in Moore College of Art and Design's Goldie Paley Gallery. But there's a glimmer of early, conceptual, pre-Weimaraner William Wegman, too.
What Hoeber stealthily captures with her cellphone camera while traveling by train looks like something in the background of an Evans photo or a Hitchcock film - that mundane bit in an otherwise absorbing image that your eye would never naturally gravitate to. More often than not, it's extremely difficult to recognize what she has actually shot. Many of the images produced by her seemingly unfamiliar perspectives and extreme close-ups suggest painted abstractions of spaces, but they're entirely photographic and real - in fact, train riders see their environment from Hoeber's perspectives every day but would never think of them as subjects for photographs, likewise the close-ups.
The three photographs that constitute Hoeber's Gray Step probably depict an actual set of molded plastic steps as seen from above (with part of a person's knee or elbow jutting into the frame), but the images also could pass for a concrete wall seen straight-on. The two photographs in Yellow might be a view of Hoeber's lap and the floor of the train. I'm still not sure.
Hoeber is also a poet, and she joins her poems in sequences similar to those of her photographs; she uses the white page and spaces between words in the same way she presents her photographs, with areas of white around and between them, to create a sense of stillness. Though I would have read Hoeber's poems in the gallery had they been available - I caught up with them later, on her website, dbhoeber.com - I think the decision to show the photographs by themselves was the right one. There's plenty of poetry in this room.
More of Hoeber's work - in this case, serial self-portraits - can be seen in "17 Women," a group show organized by artist Anne Minich for the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral.
Extended a week from its original closing date, Max Cole's second one-person show at Larry Becker Contemporary Art focuses on her recent ink-and-acrylic drawings on rag paper, although three large paintings from 2010 - Salt Marsh, Pampas, and Dog Star - have been included for those not familiar with her work. (Cole, a minimalist known for her compositions of horizontal lines, has often been compared to Agnes Martin, who was a decade older. But her style is distinctly her own).
Cole's works on paper are so exquisitely drawn, their lines so thin and crisp, they could be mistaken for etchings. One can see why the late, discerning Italian collector of postwar American art, Count Giuseppe Panza, who bought Cole's work throughout her career until his death in 2010, considered Cole as much a minimalist as a conceptual artist - and even a mystic. Speaking about her paintings and works on paper in 2000, he told an interviewer: "They express the moment in which we realize that our minds can live in a reality that normally escapes us . . . I think her studio is the place where she can experience these flashes, which are the reason for her insistence on doing what she does: The assiduous search for this moment that has to come, and that comes only if you seek it."
Pentimenti Gallery usually devotes its summer group show to art that reflects the state of the world - health, educational, political, sociological, environmental, and technological developments are typical subjects of its artists' scrutiny - and this year's is abiding by tradition.
"Global Conscious, Local Artists" also refines Pentimenti's aesthetic, which is a taste for contemporary Pop Art - and modernist design-influenced art that is made by hand but that reveals little of the artist's physical imprint on a particular work.
Among my favorites in this six-artist show are Paul Romero's videos, "Playground Fun," made on the Reading Railroad viaduct, now known as the Philly High Line; Jay Walker's sprawling tape installation; Tim Eads' photographic portraits of objects culled from the trash; and Tim Portlock's large-scale prints of postindustrial cities that use 3D special effects and computer game-authoring software.
"Galleries" by Edith Newhall and "Art" by Edward J. Sozanski appear on alternating Sundays.