Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Chicago Does Holga/Chicago Photography Center

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What happens when sophisticated shutterbugs start fooling around with a decidedly low-tech camera (the plastic Holga) that produces anything but f64 “realism”? Back in the day, the Holga photographers exploited the camera’s supposed defects of producing blurry and murky images, and came up with credible pictorialist-impressionist prints. Jerry Cargill’s studies of lakes and woods are the single bow to the old school in this show of eleven contemporary Holga practitioners. The new school, represented here by ten photographers from around the world, has found ways of making the Holga turn out clear realistic photos, although they are a bit faded and tend toward the dark side. Teru Kuwayama has gone as far as taking the Holga to the front lines of Afghanistan as a photojournalist and carrying back moving deep-toned images of the war. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Colin McRoberts/Chicago Photography Center

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Colin McRoberts, “Daydream”

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Before the onset of puberty, some boys become fascinated by the world of insects, especially if they are shy and insecure. They peer into a miniature life-space that they can dominate with their gaze. Colin McRoberts has felt the rush of testosterone, but he goes back to those little ecological niches and takes color macro-photographs of their denizens that are intensely detailed and individualizes, even personalizes, them, as a little boy does. Most telling is McRoberts’ “Self Portrait,” in which we see a Japanese beetle from above, intensely looking into a softly-focused cluster of white flowers: the little boy has metamorphosed into an insect, having become part of their world. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Charles H. Traub/Alibi Fine Art

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Chicagoans know how to get down and dirty, at least they did in the 1970s when Charles Traub shot them in black and white on the sweet city’s beaches. It was summer and it was hot, and we know what that means for lakefront habitués. Our forebears had shed their second skins and more importantly their inhibitions. At the same time, the hardcore Chicagoan doesn’t vogue, so Traub stalked his prey and went in fast capturing priceless scenes like a man standing over a young lady, drawing down his bikini swim suit as she lay in readiness. Who knows what might have happened, but Traub has shown us the spirit of the times and that is enough to slake any curiosity. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Alison Harris/Chicago Photography Center

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Having gained access to the abandoned great theater of Camogli built in the nineteenth century on the Italian Riviera, Alison Harris entered its dark cavernous recesses dotted by ambient light, and fell into deep meditation as she followed details that caught her eye and let them lead her to expand her vision into integral compositions that she photographed in subtly shaded black and white. Although the theater is a derelict structure, Harris is not a ruins photographer; she is, instead, an emotive artist whose remarkably complex yet coherent images express the vibrant peace that she felt in the place. In Harris’ case, the picture is worth far more than a thousand words—so much is in each image and so many photographic values are exquisitely balanced, and so much is simultaneously revealed and concealed by chiaroscuro. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Jessica Labatte/Golden Gallery

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In an elaborate multi-stage process that would need a monograph to describe it, Jessica Labatte makes triangular constructions out of the paper used in color theory courses, arranges them in complicated arrays, shoots them in color as slides and as negatives, “cross-processes” the two impressions when she develops them (forget the details), and selects one of the resulting prints to display. What we see are distinctive abstractions that are engaging by virtue of their elegant yet dynamic composition, their juxtaposition of complementary and contrasting colors (she gives her images such titles as “Cross Processed (Magenta to Lime Green)”), the subtle shadows that they cast, and the fine gradations of tonality that painters would give their eye teeth for. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: José Moré/Chicago Photography Center

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No longer the killing fields of several decades ago, Cambodia is recovering from its brutal bout with the Khmer Rouge’s virulent strain of Maoist totalitarianism and progressing toward a problem-pocked normalcy, if not prosperity. Former Chicago Tribune photographer José Moré checked out the country as it stands today, focusing on the plight of women and the efforts of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to give them a boost, in color shots that often have the quality of brochure images. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: I Love Ink/Chicago Photography Center

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Fusing culture and flesh, the tattoo exerts a fascination, even now that it has become commonplace: Why do people mark themselves permanently with a symbolic and aesthetic commitment, as though they would never change? Judging by the thirty-seven black-and-white (why would anyone do that when color is intrinsic to the impact of the tattoo?) and color images by fifteen photographers, there are as many reasons as there are impulses. Some want to turn themselves into art, as Jose More shows with telling effect in his close-up study of an elaborate crosshatched design that has been abstracted from its human medium so thoroughly that we think we are looking at a tapestry, but for tufts of hair peeking out. Others have something to announce to the world, as with Caitlyn Eakins’ portrait of a young man who has the credo “Believe in Yourself” emblazoned across his chest. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Joe Koecher/Wink Optical

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One of the legions of Chicago photographers who testify to their love for their sweet home’s cityscape by shooting on the streets in their own distinctive styles, Joe Koecher distinguishes himself from the others by his split personality that makes him a visual Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Look at Koecher’s clear and sometimes garishly illuminate color and black-and-white images that he has printed on canvas, and you are in the comfortably familiar aesthetic of celebration, served up with the panache of angle shots—like a breathtaking view of steel-and-glass skyscraper caught through the spaces opened up in the Picasso sculpture—and striking effects like the downtown wreathed in a billowing fog captured from Olympian heights. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Doug Ischar/Golden Gallery

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"Honor Among 5," 1987/2011

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A long-time “spectator of public sexuality,” Doug Ischar was in his prime and in his element in the hey-day of the untrammeled breakout by gays from the closet and into the beaches and bars. In 1987, Ischar found his perfect scene: San Francisco’s leather bar, the Eagle, in the thick of its chock-full-of-patrons “beer busts,” at which erotic moves were communal and intimate at the same time, evincing the trust and confidence of social, cultural and personal revolution. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Jamal Saidi/Chicago Photography Center

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Nowhere in the world is more socially complicated than Lebanon, with its dizzying array of religions and sects, and nowhere is more cosmopolitan than its capital Beirut, where all of them meet, mingle, fight and fraternize. Conflict photographer Jamal Saidi knows his native city intimately and has documented its troubled vicissitudes and its resilience for more than three decades in edgy, bold and energy-laden black-and-white and color shots. Contrast is the name of Saidi’s game; he wants to show, in this retrospective, the devastation and oppression that Beirut suffered in the late twentieth century as a result of civil war instigated by external powers, and its rebirth as the jewel and entrepot of the Middle East after the millennium. Read the rest of this entry »