JTF (just the facts): A total of 17 color photographs, framed in artist-made neodymium-glazed ceramic frames, and hung against white walls in the two room gallery space. All of the works are dye sublimation prints on aluminum, made in 2022. Physical sizes range from roughly 7×5 to 20×15 inches, and all of the works are unique. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: For the better part of the past decade, Scott Alario has used his young family as his primary photographic subject matter. And while many photographers have made this same choice, Alario hasn’t traveled along the well worn visual paths of watching the kids grow and change, or attentively documenting their individual trials, frustrations, and triumphs. Instead, he has tunneled into the imaginative play of his children, and used it is a jumping off point for his own photographic experimentation. In some sense, everyone in his pictures is collaboratively improvising – both the children and their artist father alike – which leads to a consistent feeling of open-ended freedom and exploration.
One downside to digging into childhood wonder and magic as a subject is that all the imaginative fun has likely distracted us from the technical prowess Alario has creatively deployed in the making of his images – we’ve been drawn in by the fairy tales, made-up games, and outdoor field trips, and perhaps overlooked or undervalued the various process innovations Alario has employed to bring them alive. In his 2014 gallery show (reviewed here), he used multiple exposures and layered negatives in black-and-white to capture the fleeting mystery of everyday play. And in his 2016 gallery show (reviewed here), he built up color images from RGB filtered exposures, splitting childhood moments into refracted rainbows of separated light.
In this show, Alario has once again re-envisioned his underlying process. Starting with digital photographs (and/or layers of multiple exposures), Alario has converted them to black-and-white, inverted their tonalities to become negative images, and then used a tablet to hand-color the photographs with digital “paint”. His chosen palette is decidedly bright and summery, full of pastels and crisp energy, and when laid atop the reversed images, the colors deliver a heightened sense of ethereal magic, like a dream taking place in an extra vivid fantasy world.
Most of Alario’s compositions here revolve around direct interaction with nature, where a hand, a foot, or another fleetingly glimpsed limb, torso, or face is showing us a discovery. Many of these adventures take place in an overgrown area of weeds and wildflowers, perhaps a meadow or a back garden, which Alario has amplified with electric greens, purples, and other spots of eye-popping color. As tiny feet run through the greenery (losing a flip flop here and there), Alario zooms in on various unexpected treasures: worms, bugs, bright blossoms, and even one huge moth (which gives the show its name). There is clearly magic in the air, as ghostly echoes and repetitions create a sense of shifting timelessness, and rain falls as purple droplets.
Soon the intrepid explorers are drawn into the water (as swimmers and canoers in a nearby lake or pond), where tiny painted turtles are found and ripples and reflections provide opportunities for photographic complexity. When the water loses its attraction, they’re off to impromptu science experiments hosted on tables and chairs outside, where a baking soda and sugar snake jumps out of a pan and blue shards of glass veil a face. Even the family pets (a dog and a parakeet) get into the act, with the feather patterns of the bird multiplied by Alario into an all-over design like a partially-filled coloring book.
While Alario has often opted for more intimate print sizes, these works are generally smaller than before and framed in hand-crafted light purple frames, reminiscent of papier-mâché but executed in uneven ceramic. The result is works with object-quality presence on the wall and an understated welcoming playfulness, mixing art gallery seriousness and made-at-home authenticity.
It’s not easy to photograph the expressive whims of childhood without introducing mannered gestures and staged awkwardness, and across his early career, Alario has consistently found ways to keep things fresh and surprising, while still challenging himself to push the boundaries of his process. He’s clearly due for a tightly-edited retrospective photobook that brings his projects into conversation. The best of the works here feel enchanted but familiar, where the real and the fantastic oscillate back and forth before our very eyes and the everyday play of childhood explodes into something altogether more magical.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced between $1400 and $5200, with some already sold. Alario’s work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.