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Photographs For the Eyes And Ears: Eric Fennell’s Multi-Sensory Experience

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By Joe Maniscalco

Strange things happen in Eric Fennell's photographs. Things you cannot only see, but almost seem to hear.

Invading bombers roar across the sky, flying saucers harass a busy stretch of blacktop and upended city buses teeter in the high wind.

"People have called my stuff surreal," the Midwood artist says considering his work. "But I'm just trying to create an interesting picture to capture the viewer."

In his arresting photo exhibition running now through February at Williamsburg's Bliss Café, 191 Bedford Avenue, what you can almost hear is just as fantastic as at what you can actually see.

The aptly titled "Loud" for instance, evokes ear-splitting B-52 airplane engines whirring wildly under a low-level canopy of dark clouds. "Country Blacktop," meanwhile, practically oozes with that eerie, otherworldly noise that seemed to accompany every 1950's-era sci-fi flick that ever came out of Hollywood. And in "Bus Henge Monument" the pre-flexible New York City buses piled precariously atop each other virtually whine and groan with the sickening sound of metal against metal.

"There are times when I do step back and think to myself that it is kind of unnerving," Fennell admits.

Viewing his photographs, one might also think that Fennell's improbable scenes were shot anyplace else but Brooklyn. But in point of fact, they were all photographed on location somewhere within the borough.

Fennell shot the kitschy flying saucer along a deserted stretch of road inside Floyd Bennett Field just off Flatbush Avenue, and the hapless Eisenhower-era motorists about to get zapped on his staid rooftop in Midwood.

And therein lies the magic of Eric Fennell's photographs. Each element is first photographed separately and then assembled later to form the final spectacular image.

Fennell employs intricate 1/25 scale models - some of which he builds himself - shot in such a way as to make everything appear large as life.

Sometimes Fennell will work his photographic wizardry using several negatives in the darkroom. Absolutely nothing is done digitally, however, and Photoshop is a dirty word in Fennell's artistic vernacular.

"I love creating my own scene," the Brooklyn College product says. "I've always been into framing and composition."

He shot his first photograph when he was just three-years-old, Fennel explains. From there he moved onto disposable drugstore cameras and later enrolled in photographic development classes.

An avowed science-fiction fanatic who grew up on a steady weekend diet of "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" and "Lost In Space" episodes, Fennell describes his childhood growing up in Brooklyn as being a little unusual.

"I don't consider myself a real artist," he says. "But I have always viewed things differently. But I'm glad I was never like the rest of the crowd. It's not a bad thing to be a little different."

After school, Fennel later found work at an architectural studio. He's also worked in theater, film and television as well.

"It all fits in there," he says. "It's a building thing."

Viewers of Fennell's photographs have often remarked on the qualities of isolation and loneliness many of them seem to evoke.

"The Addams Family on summer vacation," some have said. "Calm but unnerving."

Fennell just shrugs at such observations, and concedes that such themes may in fact be subconscious.

"But I'm not a fan of themes," he says. "I" like to have different looks from the same process. I like to leave it up to the viewer and see what they think. Some of them may not even have a real meaning at all."

Sometimes, Fennell is surprised at the conclusions viewers come up with on their own after viewing his work.

In the case of "Stonehenge" Fennell was indeed thinking of a twist on the ancient Druid monument. But one person said that she thought the old-time New York City buses balanced on top of each other appeared to be tumbling out of the sky, and not assembled from the ground up.

"I never thought of that," he says.

One undeniable thread running through all of Fennell's work is an unshakable 1950's aesthetic reflected in many of his remarkably detailed models - some in his possession since childhood.

"I like the design of those things," he says simply. "Cars were more interesting to look at and the older science-fiction movies were more fun to watch."

For more information about Eric Fennell's photography exhibit at Bliss Café call 718-599-2547. You can also find out more about the artist at altpick.com/ericfennell.

Posted 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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