July 03, 2002

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'Angelic States – Event Sequence'
Through July 27, Walter and McBean Galleries

IT LOOKS LIKE Connie Samaras must have spent hours at her computer, inserting images of cops and weird light effects and building wreckage into her photographs. Walter and McBean Galleries assures us, however, that her large-scale digital prints are totally unmanipulated; believe it or not, these are actual slices of real life in Los Angeles, New York, and Las Vegas, all taken within the past five years. The idea of "straight" photography is both ironic and interesting to Samaras, not just because she is a lesbian but also because these pictures demonstrate how closely reality can mimic fiction. Minuteman Missile Being Tested over the Skies of Los Angeles looks more like a UFO landing than a missile exploding, and her images of the 2000 Democratic National Convention, full of spotlights and police cars, look like scenes from a Hollywood action movie. Samaras's pictures of Las Vegas hotels and construction sites are unsettling in a different way. Her photos of finished hotels show the spectacle we expect from Vegas: vast, glittering monoliths that tower over the surrounding landscape. The construction pictures, on the other hand, are full of dirt and machinery, subverting our expectations by revealing the bricks-and-mortar construction underneath the magical desert mirage. Samaras takes things one step further by presenting her Vegas-construction images next to pictures of the World Trade Center wreckage, thus implying all kinds of insidious metaconnections between tourism and terrorism, the entertainment industry and the military. It's not that she's trying to sell us on a conspiracy theory, exactly. It's more an effort to point out how willing we are to delude ourselves into believing that we're seeing aliens, or action-movie stills, or doctored pictures, instead of acknowledging the (much scarier) truth about the real world we live in. Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m., San Francisco Art Institute, 800 Chestnut, S.F. (415) 749-4563. (Lindsey Westbrook)