Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Women in Focus/Chicago Photography Center

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Kimbua Chema's "Windows to the Soul"

Kambua Chema’s “Windows to the Soul”

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In this inaugural exhibit mounted by Women in Focus, a new collective of female photographers ranging from beginners to professionals who practice the gamut of straight modernist genres from the architectural detail through street photography to the portrait, the intimate close-up images steal the show. Among the sixteen artists—each contributing two images here—the strongest and most penetrating impression is Kambua Chema’s close-up color study of a Muslim woman’s lustrous eyes appearing through the slit in a deep black veil that covers the rest of the frame, which was in Kenya’s eastern coastal region. Look closely into those eyes and see reflected exquisitely the street scene to which the woman’s vision is directed. Chema has titled the image, ironically, “Windows to the Soul.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Jodi Swanson (Alempijevic)/Chicago Photography Center

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"Chained Soul"

“Chained Soul”

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Right up front about using photography to express her ever-incomplete journey of self-discovery, Jodi Swanson (Alempijevic) does not specialize, deploying whatever technique and genre depicts the mood that she wants to represent to herself and communicate to viewers. Whether she is shooting in black-and-white or color; going straight or venturing into digital manipulation; posing models in formal studies or turning the camera on herself; or capturing slices of life on the streets, meditating on natural forms, or flirting with surrealism, Swanson is always intensely passionate—she is addicted to feeling and she is a consummate pusher who knows how to break through our emotional resistance. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Around the World/Chicago Photography Center

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Susan Aurinko

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What happens when hardcore photographic pros get smitten with wanderlust and tote their gear to distant shores? They don’t take tourist shots, but there the similarity ends. Dianne Kittle could have stayed home; her color studies from various exotic places are so exquisitely composed and her human subjects so depersonalized that we are too consumed by the images’ formal perfections to focus on their representational content. The opposite is the case for Judith Petacque’s African street shots, which give the National Geographic style an injection of energy. Photo-journalist Jose More strikes a balance between form and content in his street shots from around the world; in the banner shot of the show, More captures a busy shadowed subway entrance in St. Petersburg, Russia, dominated by a nearly silhouetted street performer flanked by throngs about their business, most notably a silhouetted businessman with his briefcase looking like the essence of existential angst. In contrast to the street shooters, Barbara Levy-Kipper (India) and Candace Casey (UAE, Native Americans) zero in for intense close-up portraits of their subjects that, in Kipper’s case, give us the bite that a real person who has broken the personal space barrier inflicts; they are too individually real for comfort. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Presidential Image/Chicago Photography Center

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In this visual-buffet sampling selected from seven decades of images of American presidents taken by photojournalists (no official shots), the two panels that shouldn’t be missed target Barack Obama, and are more revealing than one might suspect, although all the pix are flattering. Sure, the photos of Barack and Michelle doing a slow dance “alone” in the White House, Michelle sleeping like a little cherub on Barack ’s shoulder, G.W. Bush and Obama all smiles after the latter’s first election victory, and the newly minted nominee taking the stage at the Democratic National Convention are pure schmaltz and hype—puff balls that the press likes to throw our way unremittingly. But when we see Obama in the situation room following the successful operation against Osama Bin Laden with his national security team, the president standing at a podium as Bill Clinton mugs uproariously, and Obama right before he will be sworn in for his first term, we see a different man who has more things to think about than burnishing his image in print and on the screen. Read the rest of this entry »

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: 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: 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: 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 »