Why do only one thing when you can try your hand at a whole bunch of things?
That’s the philosophy behind Seattle artist Nathan Vass’ self-described “tongue-in-cheek” career retrospective, exuberantly titled “The Full Nathan!”
This, from an artist who’s just 27 — and who, in his part-time job as a Metro bus driver, can joke with his passengers, half-credibly, that he’s only 16. (Go to his website, www.nathanvass.com, to see the youthful Vass’ hilarious and wildly circuitous gallery talk about his bus-driving adventures.)
Vass was born in Los Angeles, grew up in Seattle and holds a BFA in photography from the University of Washington. Photography dominates “The Full Nathan!” but films, writings and one large pencil/colored-pencil work on paper are thrown into the mix.
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While some of Vass’ efforts can feel scattershot, his photography couldn’t be more eye-catching. He prefers shooting on 35mm film rather than working digitally because of film’s “ability to capture textures and atmospheres impossible in other mediums” (as he says on his website). The trickery of his shots comes from in-camera effects, such as double exposure.
“I rely on filters, film stock and processing methods,” he says, “to achieve my desired effects.”
His black and white shots of downtown Seattle streets (“Third and Main,” “Yesler Way”) appear to have been taken from the upper floors of the Smith Tower and, in their double exposures, highlight a moving chaos of traffic between buildings whose rooftops also seem to be in motion.
Elsewhere, he turns his lens on dancers (“Bodies”) or a tree (“Tree”) with an intensity heightened by the way he includes the ragged edges of exposed film in his prints, creating a sort of corona around his images. The double exposure in “Bodies” renders his subjects on vastly different scales, as if he’s choreographing miniature and gigantic versions of the performers in the same dance. The bright single exposure of “Tree” somehow cuts the very essence of “tree-ness.”
Action often matters more to Vass than sharp focus, and some of his images are enlivened by the visual equivalent of surface static on a vinyl LP. Squiggles of light, created by long exposures, stress that what he’s shooting is in continual motion. “Hennessy Rd., Wan Chai” (taken in Hong Kong) makes ghostly ephemera of urban energy, as traffic and pedestrians slip transparently along a busy street.
If these individual shots are the most satisfying, Vass’ big photo collages reveal his ambition. “City of Seattle” and “Streets of LA” are large-scale, multi-image renderings of protesters advocating for immigration reform. “Tuesday” delights in pure rhythmic repetitions of images (an animated, agitated male face; scissors and fabric; room interiors) to create the whole jostling feel of a day.
Vass takes a flakier turn with his films (seven of them are projected simultaneously, to garbled effect) and a novel in progress (left out for anyone to read — except for the pages he’s taped shut). But the overall energy of the show makes it easy to overlook his more slapdash efforts.
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org