Photos lift laundry from mundane to magical

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Mon., Mar. 21, 2011
'Rooftop,' shot in Mexico 2010, by Susan Parish of Quaker Hill, is part of the current exhibit at the Norwich Arts Center Gallery. - Contributed Photo

It’s hard to think of anything more mundane than laundry hanging on the clothesline.

But Susan Parish of Quaker Hill has taken this most ordinary of sights and focused her camera lens on its many permutations of color, form and pattern.

Parish’s show, “Hey, That’s My Underwear!” at the Norwich Arts Center Gallery, presents what she calls “a recurring theme” in her work. While she is a longtime art teacher and occasional painter, in recent years she has honed in on photography as her medium. And while laundry is far from her only subject, she said, “It’s one of the things that attracts my eye. Over the years I’ve collected a lot of laundry images.”

Because the motif is the same throughout, the viewer is urged to look for what makes each image unique. And there’s surprising subtlety here. “Laundry/Clouds” has the feel of a watercolor, with the pale, cool blues and greens of an overcast sky reflected in the nuances of whites on the line.

“Blue and Orange” is a harmonious line of monochromatic blue shirts and shorts, accented by one startling orange-red shirt at one end, like a punctuation mark. “Snowclothes” could almost be an aquatint, with its near-sepia shades of white and grey and its swirling speckles of snow.

Many of the images were shot in New London County, but Parish’s travels in Mexico over the past eight years have yielded some laundry images, too. They highlight some arcane cultural differences, she said: in Mexico laundry is often hung on rooftops, bunched together rather than spread out, because the heat dries clothes faster.

Among the images from south of the border are “Rooftop,” in which rainbow-hued shirts drape like a row of flags, and “Whites,” which evokes classical Greek sculpture of the draped figure.

There’s some wry humor here, too. “Acrobats” depicts pants clipped upside down, by their cuffs, to the line. “Off-Season” shows a naked clothesline in winter, punctuated by a few stray clothespins encrusted with snow. And “Clothespins in Ice” shows two clothespins conjoined by ice into a single sculptural form.

And lest viewers think that there’s no deeper message here, Parish includes a poster about the Right to Dry movement, which protests the ban of outdoor clothesline use in some places. Clotheslines, she said, “are becoming a rarity,” in many cases because homeowner associations or other local bodies consider clothes flapping n the breeze to be unsightly, and regulate against their use. The Sierra Club and other “green” organizations are making the case for a return to clotheslines, as an energy-saving alternative to dryers.

“I always like my shows to have a little educational factor,” said Parish. She even has a basketful of clothespins at the back of the gallery, with a sign urging viewers to take one home.

“Hey, That’s My Underwear!” remains on view at the NAC gallery through March 26. Gallery hours are noon to 4 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday.

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