Thomas Kellner: In America

at Schneider, through June 12

Doug Fogelson: Intersections

at Kraft Lieberman, through May 28

Ken Fandell: From Up and Down, and Still Somehow

at Bodybuilder & Sportsman, through June 5

“Seamlessness” is an increasingly popular term of praise for imagery stitched together digitally, but sometimes old-school methods yield photographs that exploit the seams and stitches as formal elements, not flaws to be erased with mouse clicks. Thomas Kellner follows a homemade protocol: he scratches notches on his tripod, then moves his camera incrementally to shoot city buildings in discrete sections, producing a gridlike collage of each structure segmented by the frame lines and edge numbers of the negatives. Doug Fogelson shoots city intersections and nature in overlapping multiple exposures that make the edges between shots apparent but translucent. Ken Fandell goes in a different direction, seeking the ultimate in seamlessness in his epic skyscapes, each one digitally assembled from hundreds of individual photographs.

The eye-catching color prints created by Kellner, Fogelson, and Fandell are more scenic than conceptual: the term “deconstruction” is too often used to describe the techniques of any artist who challenges perception by disassembling and reassembling imagery. But when there’s no ideological agenda to expose unnoticed forces working behind appearances, such art falls more under the rubric of decor. Whether the seams are in the foreground or hidden on a hard drive, the images here are ones you’d rather live with than think about.

Shooting U.S. cities for this show, German photographer Kellner chooses as his subjects the sort of architectural icons typically photographed by tourists. Fixing his tripod in one spot, he canvasses the entire view by framing the building piece by piece through a telephoto lens, isolating a small fraction of the exterior in each shot. Turning his camera a few degrees after each frame, he moves across the facade and beyond, including the sky on either side of the structure. Because he shoots the same number of frames in each row, in the darkroom he can arrange the film strips in a grid that reconstructs the entire building.

Kellner’s twist–which he risks turning into a gimmick through repetition–is to tilt the frames, a cubist effect he says was inspired by Robert Delaunay’s 1911 painting of the Eiffel Tower: Kellner angles his lens about 45 degrees to one side for one frame and 45 degrees to the other for the next. He then alternates the direction of the tilt row by row. The result is a wrinkled rhythm that gives buildings a beveled look, as if an earthquake had just struck and they were about to collapse into rubble. Kellner’s Chicago, Marina Towers, 2003, assembled from 24 strips of film 13 frames long, looks like a nod to Brancusi’s Endless Column. Here the scalloped balconies of Bertrand Goldberg’s Chicago building enrich Kellner’s design. Less successful is New York, Guggenheim, 2003: the undulating organic shape of Frank Lloyd Wright’s design doesn’t lend itself to Kellner’s cubist formula. Also lacking in interest are some of his other Chicago shots: the Navy Pier Ferris wheel, Water Tower, the Drake Hotel. Kellner’s strongest image, New York, Brooklyn Bridge, 2003, is taken from a familiar angle: looking down the length of this landmark structure. Because there are so many cables crisscrossing the vista and foreground, many of them end up out of focus, which gives the image a vibratory texture: here the bridge not only shakes but shimmers.

In “Intersections” at Kraft Lieberman, Fogelson, a Chicagoan, immerses himself in the flux of city dwellers omitted from Kellner’s postcard views. Shooting transparencies, Fogelson never advances his film a full frame after taking a shot the way most photographers do. Instead he rolls his film ahead in short segments to reexpose it in overlapping shots and superimpositions. This technique depends on a street shooter’s instincts, not to mention the kind of memory that can keep track of multiple frames: Fogelson doesn’t see the film until it’s been processed, unlike a digital photographer, who can access each shot instantly.

Fogelson’s streetscapes capture the streams of strangers coursing along city sidewalks. S.F. Lineup, five feet long and two feet high, is an energetic meditation on American facial expressions, including a hard stare back into the lens from one young woman and the more peaceable mien of a man who seems to be posing. Fogelson doesn’t stand on a corner and turn around for a simplistic 360-degree panorama. And don’t try to add up all the facets of his Clark & Randolph to re-create a familiar scene: his pastiche reveals that he does scan for incidents and gestures. Too many streets intersect in Times Square–there are seven in this image–making it clear that Fogelson isn’t presuming to map the city. But he does seem to be responding to colors in this luminous C-print: the pedestrians he accumulates on the left half are wearing blue, while beige and khaki predominate on the right.

Fogelson’s approach feels documentary when he registers the velocity of faces and traffic on a crowded street but takes an unexpected abstract turn when he focuses on nature. High Desert Water is a nearly monochromatic study of bubbling water and brown pebbles in Palm Springs that sacrifices scale and orientation but exudes kinetic delight. Neil’s Branches is a masterful exercise in modulated color fields, framing spare black branches against a wintry sky to produce a subdued palette of blues and grays. Ironically, Fogelson’s artifice is most apparent in this natural scene: his five-foot-long, foot-and-a-half-tall Lambda C-print presents 26 distinct vertical bands, revealing the 26 separate exposures that make up the work.

You can’t see all of the 500 or so exposures that Fandell, another Chicagoan, incorporated into All the Skies Above (Berkeley, Chicago, Hartford, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Venice, Vienna, and Various Points in Between: October 14th, 2002 – March 8th, 2004). This digitally unified nature study–ten feet long and four and a half feet tall–displays an entrancing if incoherent sky: close inspection reveals quite a few suns behind the clouds. A follow-up to his nine-foot-long works The Sky Above My Home, The Sky Above Here, and The Sky Elsewhere, all from 2003, this phantasmagoric vista is the high point of “From Up and Down, and Still Somehow” at Bodybuilder & Sportsman. The work’s strands, whorls and banks of pearly, lavender, sooty, and crimson clouds were shot at dawn and dusk and in between, from airplane windows and from rooftops.

Fandell’s beautiful miscellany of atmospheric conditions never hints at its far-flung origins. Digitally suturing his photos into a single seamless expanse, Fandell fashions a sci-fi vision of superheaven. In one corner, a patch of eerie night sky surrounding a full moon stands out against the daytime tones around it. Trying to make sense of this spectre, the mind sees it as a solar eclipse. But overall Fandell’s wizardry creates an uncanny unity that enchants rather than cheats.