Precarious photos put viewers in their place

Fran Osborn-Blaschke's "Sunset" taken in Provincetown from Noonan's Landing at 42 degrees 02' 57.81" north latitude, 70 degrees 07' 05.55" west longitude.

"Some people consciously try to use art to understand things, but I just appreciate them," photographer Fran Osborn-Blaschke says of his work. His recent series, titled "curve of the Earth" is a testament to this statement.

The photographs are wide-angle landscapes that Osborn-Blaschke has tilted within the frame to match their location's degree of latitude on earth. Hence, a cityscape of Boston take from Deer Island on June 21, 2006 (the Summer Solstice) leans perilously at 42° 21' 17.52" N latitude. This takes some doing: Osborn-Blaschke explains that he uses his tripod to angle his camera as closely as possible to the latitude that he's trying to capture and then manipulates the print in the darkroom to the exact minutes and seconds.

The effect is by turns nerve-wracking, surreally gorgeous, and filled with pathos; we become suddenly all-too-aware of our place in a larger universe as the landscapes shimmer before us, seemingly in danger of sliding off into space.

Osborn-Blaschke grew up in Wilmington, Delaware in a family of photographers. Both his grandfather and uncle owned and operated a portrait studio and his father ran a school photography business, and he was put to work in the packaging orders when he was in high school. Despite this background, he didn't take a serious interest in photography until several years ago when his wife, the pianist Linda Osborn-Blaschke, asked him to take a headshot for her.

"I took a good picture by accident and got interested," he said.

After moving to Boston in 1991 in support of his wife's career, Osborn-Blaschke enrolled in the New England School of Photography (NESOP) for a two-year program, studying both black and white and color photography. Dorchester-based since 2001, he recently received his Massachusetts teaching certification, which will allow him to begin teaching at NESOP.

In addition to the "curve of the Earth" series, which will be on exhibit in 2009 at the Atrium Exhibit Space in the John Joseph Moakley U.S. Courthouse in Boston, Osborn-Blaschke's work encompasses both abstract imagery and portraits of friends and family. Beyond the pivotal headshot moment, he finds particular inspiration in music, often playing the works of composers Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, John Adams, and the György Ligeti in his head as he takes pictures. He has also recently discovered a love of poetry, describing a successful poem as a "lyrical photo." He now memorizes favorite poems by Margaret Atwood, Robert Frost, Mark Doty, and others.

All of the cross-genre pollination seems to be having the desired effect, as museums and galleries across New England and in New York have shown increasing interest in Osborn-Blaschke's work. His photographs were included in the Danforth Museum of Art's Photography Biennial in 2007 and the Brush Art Gallery show "Going to the Dogs," the Griffin Museum of Photography's 14th Annual Juried Exhibition, and the Open Studios Coalition show at Boston City Hall, all in 2008. He has also been invited by the "Exposure Project" photography group to be part of their current book.

Dorchester residents can also admire Osborn-Blaschke's work a bit closer to home when he exhibits five new photos in a one-day show at the Pearl Street Gallery (at 11 Pearl St.) this Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.

All of this recent attention is perhaps due to the sense of abstract realism Osborn-Blaschke is able to capture with his work, creating visual metaphors for the juxtapositions and speed of 21st century life. In this, he remains true to his claim that he is not trying to understand life through his work; instead, he allows his audience to do so. His sense of appreciation, however, is certainly inspiring.

Artists by Artists is irregular series of articles organized by local artist Sierra Rothberg. Those interested in participating as writers or as subjects can contact Rothberg at sierrajoy@hotmail.com.

Anna Ross's poems and translations have appeared nationally and internationally in journals such as The Paris Review, The New Republic, Southwest Review, AGNI, and Poetry Wales, and she is the recipient of several awards and fellowships, including a Pushcart nomination in 2008. She lives in Dorchester with her husband and daughter, teaches Writing, Literature and Publishing at Emerson College, and is a Visiting Poet at Stonehill College.

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