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PHD Gallery hosts one very smart photography show

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon. - You will love Linda Mueller’s impossible worlds whether or not you know her intentions and process. They are delightful and bizarre. As part of the “Altered Reality” exhibit at PHD Gallery, Mueller skillfully combines multiple images to create still life constructions through magic called Photoshop.

Mueller’s surreal scenes are not fragmented like collage. Her photo layers merge seamlessly, as she deconstructs surfaces and rebuilds them to her fancy.

Mueller connects her work to Georges Braque’s still lifes. Mueller’s photographs do not appear as cubist, though the presence of faceted geometries is striking in her compositions. It is Braque’s manipulation of art materials for compositional effect that inspires Mueller’s approach to the objects she employs in her tableau scenes. An added dimension of fun comes in the knowledge that each of these images is a portrait of someone Mueller knows. Here a cigar is definitely not just a cigar and every bent and skewed ornament is ripe for analysis.

Opposite Mueller’s still life portraits are Emily Stremming’s photography as fiber arts creations. Stremming destroys her photographs to make them whole. She cuts two images into long, even strips and weaves the images together, making choices about the dominant scene as she goes.

Stremming has an eye for unusual vantage points of well-known locations. Her photograph Powell Square shows the Gateway Arch through the skeletal remains of a partially demolished building. This unusual point of view makes the gleaming metal icon small and inconsequential. Stremming’s woven photographs range from just slightly obscured street scenes with legible hints of location to highly abstracted combinations, as in Indoor Parking.

Philip Hitchcock has put together a very interesting exhibition here. The work of these two photographers couples well, each acting as a foil for the other. Hitchcock’s salon style hanging in the tight PHD Gallery space successfully forces the relationship. Mueller’s perfectly crisp images shine brighter when facing off with the illusion of seeing through a window into a rainy day created by Stremming’s woven photos.

Both artists have employed inventive means to create painterly illusions. Their laborious efforts are completely successful and worth a visit to the ever-interesting East Cherokee.