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John Wood Retrospective at SUArts

Photographer pioneered multimedia used widely today

The presence of a single American flag in an entire exhibition that so often references the past 50 years of challenges that have rocked American life intrigued Andrew Saluti from the start. On a walk-through early last week of "On the Clear Edge of Meaning," the John Wood retrospective now on view at Syracuse University's Shaffer Arts Building gallery, Saluti pointed out this 1985 photograph. Captured from a vantage point directly beneath the flag-pole extending from a building's front fa ade, the face of the stars and stripes billowed and zigzagged as the fabric lifted slightly in the wind -- just as winds of change have unsettled the country's own sense of identity over these decades. Far above, just visible past the lip of roof and easily missed in the sun's glare, an eagle's extended wings.

"But I wonder," said Saluti, a print-maker himself, who prepares exhibitions for SUArts and had hung the show, "because right at the top there's that eagle, and he uses many images of eagles. I wonder if the eagle is the image he prefers to reference the nation."

Since these images are often unsettling -- "pelts," Wood calls them -- together with his "guns in the landscape" images in response to violence, and the nuclear waste and Exxon-Valdez oils spill series, it's apparent something more complex than flag-waving is afoot. And unlike many photographers addressing social issues during these decades, Wood intentionally eschewed a direct documentary, journalistic approach. "I mean it to be lyrical," he said over 30 years ago, and he's sticking to it.

Woods, his wife the photographer Laurie Snyder (who completed an MFA thesis at Syracuse University in 1987 on Wood's work), his daughter the fiber artist Carol Wood, curator Nathan Lyons and his wife Joan Lyons (who designed the handsome book that serves as catalogue), were all on hand for the opening reception last Thursday. Wood is 86 now and -- owing to a fall down some "unforgiving New England stairs" -- has recently not been well, so the others did more speaking to the assembled crowd than he. But he'd mingled with the crowd before the formal presentation, answering a few questions one on one, and he answered some queries at the end of the presentation too. So Saluti asked him about that flag.

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