Franz Jantzen wants to see it all. The photo collages in his “Ostinato,” at Hemphill Fine Arts, don’t attempt to depict everything, of course. They focus on a particular place or object, whether a grand old theater such as the Loew’s in Jersey City or an in-flight meal on a tray. But the Washington photographer shoots his subjects multiple times from a set height and angle, and then stitches the images together on a computer, so the final composition combines multiple perspectives.
It’s pretty much impossible to write about Jantzen’s work without using the term “cubist,” but that word is not quite right. Neither is “ostinato,” which refers to a musical note or phrase that’s repeated without variation. Such cubist painters as Picasso and Braque were looser and more fanciful in their use of multiple vantage points. Yet Jantzen’s photo assemblages aren’t merely scientific, in the manner of one of his inspirations: multi-exposure images made by automated satellites or planetary rovers to depict the worlds beyond our own.
Perhaps to assuage his regret at abandoning film photography, Jantzen decided that digital image-making is a different form. “It is an entirely new medium altogether, one closer to painting and sculpture,” he writes. That’s arguable, but the artist’s switch to pixels has encouraged him to take an art-historical approach. “Ostinato” includes some still lives of fruit and flowers, classic oil-painting subjects, and a fractured view of an actual painting, “Study No. 32 (I Like Cezanne).” There’s also a deconstructed/reconstructed view of a Campbell’s Soup box, which nods to Warhol.
In the tradition of pre-digital photography, Jantzen sometimes considers ordinary things: a ragged storefront, a tree stump or his hand holding a book. But digital imagery, for Jantzen at least, leads to large and often architectural subjects. That makes sense, because the photographer has become sort of a builder himself. The multitiered work in “Ostinato” couldn’t actually exist in the 3-D world, but it is impeccably constructed and kind of grand.