- Annette Kelm at Presentation House Gallery until Oct. 14.
HE'S a cowboy astride a horse.
His chin is square, his vest is leather and his jeans are blue.
But he's holding a fan. And it's the type of fan a southern debutante might bat her eyelashes behind while coquettishly blushing at the advances of a gentleman caller.
While the word typical doesn't seem to apply, the photograph is representative of the work of Annette Kelm.
The German photographer's work is being exhibited at the Presentation House Gallery until Oct. 14.
The exhibit was curated by Reid Shier, who has been trying to put Kelm's photos on display for several years.
"There was something incredibly curious about how she made photographs and what she chose to make photographs of," he says, describing his compulsion to her work.
Parrots, playing cards, baseball caps, Wurlitzer organs, and a farm built by Marie Antoinette have all found their way in front of her lens.
Kelm tends to use a large format camera and develop her photos in a darkroom.
Her choice of subject matter sometimes presents a clash between the past and the present, the rational and the silly, or perhaps between the real world and a dream.
"It's very difficult to describe," Shier says, discussing the appeal of Kelm's work. "She's always playing with your sense of what should be there and what is there."
Kelm's photos tend to be bright and vivid, with clearly drawn lines that suggest a clear statement. However, a close inspection of her work reveals a tendency to subvert that statement with an element that is slightly out of place or from another time.
In a photo titled "Archaeology and Literature," she frames upright textbooks against a busy wallpaper design. The photo also includes large vegetables.
Her choices are clear but the meanings of those choices are often difficult to decipher. For Shier, that's part of what makes Kelm so interesting.
"There's lots of little things in each image that bear repeated viewing," he says. "They're deceptively simple or deceptively complex, depending on how you look at them."
Shier describes the photos as: "extremely deliberate but at the same time extremely unsolvable."
One of Shier's favourite Kelm photos is a juxtaposition of a large container vessel and what appears to be a pirate ship.
"You get the sense of something that doesn't fit properly. You think of the pirate ship next to the container boat," Shier says. "Something is not quite right."
Is the pirate ship a commentary on modern capitalism or just something that caught Kelm's eye?
Having met the photographer, Shier suggests the pictures might be underscored by laughter.
"There is a precision to how she talks and presents her ideas that I think is echoed in her photography. She's very matter-of-fact, but there's also a twinkle to them and there's a sense of humour in the images that I think is also a nuance of her personality," Shier says. "All the images are not without a nudge."
Kelm has had solo shows in Switzerland, Austria, San Francisco, and Japan.
Besides the clarity of her composition and an affinity for uncanny subject matter, Kelm is distinguished for the scope of her work.
"There are not that many artists with a body of work that is large enough that one can choose and select a really evocative exhibition," Shier says. "A younger artist might be stretched to fill a whole gallery like ours."
The difficulty in filling an entire gallery is particularly acute for photographers, according to Shier.
"An artist that's doing a video installation can fill one room with one work but a photographer who's doing fairly discreet images like Annette, she doesn't do giant pictures, that demands a certain depth of practice and a certain experience."
Kelm is one of many modern photographers who utilize old cameras for their pictures.
"Annette has no particular attachment to analog photography, and she's been explicit with me about that. She said, 'I don't want you to say that I'm shooting that because I really like it, I would love to work with digital, it just happens I know how to get what I want with an analog process," Shier says.
Still, Shier sees the almost anachronistic approach as a perfect complement to Kelm's style.
"A lot of artists are drawn to a technology that's on the verge of its disappearance," he says. "There's a certain freedom around it when it's beginning to disappear and it's able to catch something that looks backward and forward at the same time, maybe."