"ImageOHIO 15" as strong as ever

Jesse Tigges, Columbus Alive

For 15 years ImageOHIO has held a juried exhibition representing the best from the state's engineers of optical art. The project originally showcased only the photography medium, but as interest grew in other forms of visual creation, other elements were added and now include video and digital art. The result is a vastly diverse collection in this year's iteration, on view at Fort Hayes Shot Tower Gallery through Feb. 20, representing artists with myriad concepts, inspiration and objectives.

"I wanted to represent the diversity of work that was submitted, but I also thought if it was selected it had to go beyond just the diversity. It really had to be a strong image," said Benjamin Montague, juror for "ImageOHIO 15" and professor of photography at Wright State University.

As ImageOHIO has grown in scope, and also notoriety, being selected has become a highly regarded achievement. Montague selected 42 works by 25 artists and one collective for "ImageOHIO 15," saying it was a difficult process to "whittle down" the submissions and that holding on to guiding principles was key.

"I was really looking to see … the artist's intent in the work. If that was very clear to me, it made it through," Montague said during a phone interview in mid-January. "One of the other things I was looking for, which wasn't necessarily part of the call, was cohesion to the work they submitted. Artists were allowed to submit up to five pieces; I was also interested in seeing if the work matched the artist statement, and if the artist's statement added additional insight to the work."

Both Montague and Ken Aschliman, director of ROY G BIV Gallery, which has presented ImageOhio since 1999, stated the need to represent the many ways artists in the region are working. But they were also drawn to works with a clear voice, challenging aesthetics and unconventional approaches. Both mentioned Jason Schwab's images as ones they "kept coming back to."

"What's really exciting to me is artwork that will blur the lines between different subject matters," Aschliman said, referring to Schwab's photography. "He took photos of interior spaces, printed them large-scale and set them up in an empty public space. He did that in a gym, a Laundromat and a church. It's a nice blurring of personal - you could think of interior spaces being a portrait of the person who lives there - and public space."

Montague also cited Rachel Reisert's "Genesis" piece as visually challenging. "Genesis" is a collection of 35 images of various tree branches fashioned into a cohesive mosaic. Some images are blurred and out-of-focus, others highly detailed. Despite the differences of the individual images, the formation of the whole forges the appearance of a singular, slightly surreal tree.

The video component is another example of artists combining purpose and meaning with unconventional - often striking - imagery.

Lillianna Marie's video "An Abnormality" is filled with questions, but direct in statement. The video explores Marie finding an "abnormality" in her brain during an MRI scan. The artist's voice repeats the phrase "Do you see it?" while images of the MRI swirl across the screen, presenting the notion that said "abnormality" may be anything but.

Rachel Yurkovich's "Eat, Drink, and Be Merry" could be seen, superficially, as fruit flies drowning in a glass of red wine (which Yurkovich's cinematography captures in visceral, close-up detail). But there are clear parallels between the flies' compulsion to the wine - despite resulting in their demise - and humanity's preoccupation with excess.

Fort Hayes Shot Tower Gallery

Through Feb. 20

Opening reception: 7-9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 23

546 Jack Gibbs Blvd., Downtown