Giraud Foster's and Norman Barker's photographs, at Gomez, have titles that make them sound as if they belong in some arcane research project, not an art gallery: "Thoracic Fish Vertebrae," "Ammonite, Dactyliocceros," "Brachulite," "Stromatolite."
Actually, the titles refer to fossils, millions or even billions of years old, which Foster, a physician and archaeologist, and Barker, a medical photographer, have photographed and enlarged up to 50 times their actual size.
We have all seen enough pictures of fossils and life under the microscope to recognize these as manifestations of the natural world -- and not only the ones that have obvious natural forms, such as the shell-like spiral of "Pyritize Ammonite" or the leaf-like forms of "Brachulite."
Compare any of them with Allison Renshaw's abstract paintings, also on view at Gomez, and it becomes evident that there's a kind of organic order at work in these photographs that separates them from the world of man-made, non-objective art. So it's remarkable that these are not dryly scientific images; on the contrary, to see them is to be drawn into a world of rich colors, swirling movement, tactile textures and glowing light.
Some are remarkable for pure color, such as the deep red field and the glistening black crystals of "Stromatolite," the serene blue of "Ammonite" and the acid yellow of "Yellow Algae."
Some resemble works of art: "Brachiopods and Gastropods" is reminiscent of the photogram technique in which objects are placed on light-sensitive paper and exposed to light, creating an image on the paper without the use of a camera. One of the two works titled "Cycad" looks like a relief sculpture, perhaps from ancient Assyria.
Then there are those in which light and texture dominate, especially the smaller of two works simply titled "Wood." Since it's called that, it must be wood, but it gives the impression of a thin, open-weave textile curtain on which sun and shadow play on a sleepy late spring afternoon somewhere in the warmer regions. It is a credit to the artists that something the viewer knows to be a photograph of a fossil could be so evocative of time, place and mood.
Renshaw is a recent MFA graduate of the Maryland Institute, College of Art, whose abstracts exhibit energy, a sense of color and light and a good deal of emotion. But they are not yet wholly resolved, and they don't engage the viewer as much as they might. It's easier to pick them apart, and find interesting passages here and there, than it is to relate to them as entities.
But the fact that they are interesting passages indicates that this is an artist to watch. Her smaller paintings here exhibit a droll humor that she would do well to pursue.
What: Photographs by Giraud Foster and Norman Barker, paintings by Allison Renshaw
Where: Gomez Gallery, 836 Leadenhall St.
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through July 29
$ Call: (410) 752-2080