Besides pitchers of beer at the terrace, open mic at the Rathskeller and Babcock Dairy ice cream at the Daily Scoop, the Memorial Union continually offers displays of amazing work by local artists. In addition to the nearly 1,600 pieces in the permanent collection that are displayed throughout the hallways and rooms, the Union’s Porter-Butts Gallery regularly rotates showings of art ranging from sculpture to painting.

Located on the second floor next to the Main Lounge, the gallery is currently displaying the work of photographers in association with PhotoMidwest, a citywide, month-long exhibition of over 100 photography-related events. The gallery’s show, entitled “Photography Midwest: A Seven State Juried Show,” will feature the work of regional photographers throughout March. While dozens of extraordinary photos are on display, a few have received awards for their exceptional appearances.

Madison native and internationally recognized photographer Keith Carter juried the show and chose three pieces as his personal favorites. The one that is most obviously exceptional, “Always the Bridesmaid” by Dede Bangs of Madison, was awarded a $400 prize. The sepiated silver print depicts the flowing image of a beautiful wedding gown without a bride. The antique white color created by the sepia process and the blurred lines around the figure give the photo a dream-like feel that enchants the viewer. Evidently the bridesmaid, represented by the less elegant dress in the background, is appropriately dominated by the beautiful “bride” in the front. The entire scene is framed by ivy with lines that denote an intricate etching process. The images complement each other perfectly and successfully capture the viewer’s undivided attention.

Although Carter awarded “The Ornamental Urge” by Elizabeth Raymer of Bloomington, Ind. a $200 prize, I was not convinced of its superiority in comparison to the other pieces. The small pinhole photograph shows the fuzzy likeness of a seated female. The figure’s black gown blends into the background so that the only distinguishable images are her arms, legs and head. However, the excessively blurred lines distort her limbs and confuse the viewer. While confusion can add to a piece by requiring viewers to draw their own conclusions, this image evokes little thought or feeling.

I enjoyed the art committee’s choice “Carnavalle” by Sherry Powell of Muncie, Ind. The photograph is divided into nine separate panels that show three figures of circus clowns. The lines connecting the three figures intertwine them and suggest the movement of one twirling clown instead of three. The use of vibrant, almost neon colors enhances the carnival theme of the work and adds to the jovial feel created by the clowns.

Although color photos can create just as much feeling, I am partial to black and white photos and thus particularly appreciated the art committee’s second pick, “Closet Door” by Tome McInvaille of Madison. The relatively clear image of an old closet door is overlapped by the fuzzy image of a woman’s right breast and torso. Most striking about the photo is that the woman appears to be held back by a strong masculine hand wrapped underneath her breast. Although the hand suggests restraint, the body parts complement each other beautifully by McInvaille’s use of slight shadows and blurred lines.

Returning to the seemingly less-traditional theme of vibrant color use, “Candy Men” by Doug Manley of Port Barrington, Ill. was also recognized by the Wisconsin Union Art Collection. The surreal photo shows cantaloupe-shaped figures covered in rainbow-colored ooze. The ooze eerily reflects what appears to be a lighted doorway. The entire glob of gooey melons is suspended above a spooky tree line and surrounded by a fire-red sky. While the piece is certainly unique, the combination of an overabundance of color and images makes it difficult to understand the artist’s intentions or identify any theme.

Unlike the complex jumble found in “Candy Men,” Madison resident Michael Forster Rothbart’s focus on color to enhance a few subjects in “Curtis Twins” allows the visitor to view his subjects with ease. The color negative shows two silhouetted dancers poised in front of a vibrant red backdrop. The images that progress from the silhouettes show the dancers in motion. The flowing lines created by the multiple exposure process depict the grace of the dancers’ movements and enrich the overall flow of the piece.

Although the jurors did not single it out, I found the most striking piece to be Madison resident Jackson Tiffany’s “Daydream of Found Sculpture.” Set on what could be a rocky Lake Michigan shore, the color ink-jet photo shows different arrangements of large white stones. The piles in the background take the forms of standing and seated people. The two large stacks in the foreground take on no recognizable shape but capture the viewer’s eye by the absence of one supporting stone in the middle of the closest stack.

While the stone has obviously been removed with the help of computer graphics, the exact location of the missing stone is extremely interesting. By removing that particular stone, the viewer is able to see the horizon created by the blue sky and pristine water. I felt as though the artist was attempting to relate imaginary lines like a horizon that seem definite to the definite presence of sturdy objects such as stones that could as easily be imaginary. While some photographers achieve one goal but neglect the other, Tiffany’s piece was thought provoking as well as aesthetically pleasing.

While the display at the Porter-Butts Gallery is definitely worth the trip up to the unfortunately neglected second floor of the Memorial Union, PhotoMidwest is sponsoring displays and events at many other equally accessible venues, including the Wisconsin Veteran’s Museum and the Elvehjem Art Museum. Organized by the Center for Photography at Madison, the celebration features displays of work from regional photographers as well as classes on the methods and techniques of photography. For a full schedule and information on artists and photos, visit www.photomidwest.org or pick up an event guide at any art-friendly location downtown.