- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 2, 2002

Washington-based photographer Joseph Virgilio may be the only contemporary artist whose work has been exhibited at the Corcoran Gallery of Art unbeknownst to him.
"I had these Polaroids of Andy Warhol, and they were in the Corcoran's Warhol exhibit," says Mr. Virgilio, who divides time between his passion, photography, and his regular profession, the law.
The pictures from Washington gallery owner Chris Murray of Mr. Warhol were intended to illustrate the pop-artist's connection to Washington in the Corcoran's "Andy Warhol: Social Observer" retrospective a couple of years ago.
Mr. Virgilio had given the Polaroids to Mr. Murray and was unaware they were being used in the show. He ended up offering the curator some larger prints in addition to the Polaroids an offer which was gladly accepted
They are now on display among three dozen other works by Mr. Virgilio in a show titled "People, Places and Things I've Seen" at a home-based gallery in Northwest Washington belonging to art collector Janet Dawson.
The photographs, which Mr. Virgilio describes as "graphic and sensuous," are all black and white and measure about 20 inches by 20 inches. They hang in six distinct exhibit spaces on four different levels. One room is painted red, others are light sage.
Ms. Dawson says the rooms are painted in those colors for a reason.
"Mark Rothko once donated paintings to a museum, but he stipulated they not be hung on white walls. He said white drained color from [his work]," Ms. Dawson says. "I think he was right."
Aside from the Warhol photos, the exhibit includes a half dozen humorous nudes. One named "Dustbuster," shows a woman (from behind) meticulously vacuuming a desk while dressed only in a garter belt and stockings.
Another beauty wears only a Venetian-style carnival mask.
Mr. Virgilio says he attempts to illustrate people and situations we may not expect to see in especially off-guarded moments, such as a laughing Andy Warhol or a melancholy fashion model.
His portraits transport the viewer back to the '80s when color contrasts in interior design and fashion photography were sharp black on white hair was big and makeup abundant (even for men). Among the portraits are "Ali," "Cigan," and "Peyton," all young, aloof-looking models, much like those photographed by Helmut Newton (who had a major influence on Mr. Virgilio's work).
Mr. Virgilio also counts Frantisek Drtikol, a Czech photographer of a century ago, as a major inspiration, especially his stylized, art nouveau-inspired nudes and portraits.
Not all of the pictures are fashion shots. There is one of an old, distinguished William Burroughs looking down on the viewer from Ms. Dawson's library wall. (It was taken after Mr. Virgilio met the author at a party in Washington more than 20 years ago.)
"I think we were actually talking about 'Naked Lunch,' and then I asked him if I could take his picture," Mr. Virgilio remembers.
Mr. Burroughs' lined, tired face hangs next to "Ali," a portrait of a blonde, beautiful model.
"A fabulous juxtaposition," Ms. Dawson purrs.
The exhibit also includes a travelogue. An untitled photo shows a darkly silhouetted man emerging from one of Paris' subway stops. "Tour Eiffel," a picture of the Eiffel Tower taken at night when the structure is illuminated by what seems to be a thousand lights, looks as if the structure is about to be engulfed in flames.
But Mr. Virgilio, reflecting the humor that went into shooting the nudes, has a different interpretation:
"It looks like dancing women but maybe that's just a Rorschach effect," he says with a laugh.

WHAT: "People, Places and Things I've Seen," the photographs of Joseph Virgilio.
WHERE: JAD ART, a home-based art gallery at 5721 Potomac Ave. NW
WHEN: 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays and 6 to 9 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays through Nov. 13. Other visits by appointment.
PHONE: 202/257-0993

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