Lynn Saville, “West 125th St, NYC”
The accent is on the aesthetic surface rather than the depiction of the subject in the contrasting approaches of architectural photographers Lynn Saville and Reuben Wu, both of whom shoot structures at middle distance and in color, and each investing their subjects with a distinct sensibility.
A visual commentator on the great recession and its ravages, Saville goes out at night to capture eviscerated stores through their plate-glass fronts, bathed in glowing electric light verging on garish neon; her subjects are not yet ruins, but they could become so if economic recovery does not reach them. The play between the dazzling come-on of the light show and the abandoned commercial spaces creates a pure seductive effect; there is nothing behind the gleaming visual wrapping, no baubles to buy.
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“09 11 19, 2010,” from the series “Mum”
Straight out of the Lone Star State, hyper-postmodern Texas photographer Nancy Newberry turns her sophistication back on its kitschy roots, offering staged color scenario portraits of subjects enacting the ritual of wearing American-pop-baroque ornamented garb or crowded-collaged corsages dominated by mums for events like homecoming day. The enactment of Newberry’s concept could take myriad forms: a dignifying humanist treatment (impossible for her), the former with tongue in cheek, a sarcastic stereotyped put down, and so on. Newberry’s particular sensibility is centered in a gentle sense of the ridiculous that allows her to save her postmodern conscience and creds, and to stay on the nice side of the line between irony and mockery. A good example of Newberry’s brand of visual wit is her scenario of a young adolescent girl standing erect on a sloping shingled roof, barefooted and draped in her flowing, consuming corsage with its copious ribbons covering her; the expression on her face betrays some apprehension that has not yet become panic, a sense of unsteadiness that is quite understandable given her situation. With that image, Newberry alerts us that she has placed herself at the antipodes of the cultural documentary and the humanist portrait, opting for postmodern play with the cultural practice, emptied of reverence and nostalgia. Read the rest of this entry »
“My dreams came true the day I did hair for a fashion show,” 2013
Jennifer Greenburg is the Cindy Sherman of our post-feminist times. A consummate performance photographer, Greenburg has all of Sherman’s wit and irony, put to the purpose of a girl just trying to have fun. Of course, post-feminism was around way before that term came into fashion; think Cyndi Lauper. Greenburg has a different and decidedly visually delectable way of parading her seemingly inexhaustible personae. Make no mistake, the black-and-white images in her project of “revising history” put her as the star in her scenarios, with the other members of the cast playing supporting roles, though they never would have known that they would be drafted for that duty. What Greenburg has done is Read the rest of this entry »
Laura Hart Newlon
Subversion of photographic conventions and the expectations that they engender in a viewer is the name of the game for the four photo-artists in this summer group show—Ben Alper, Daniel Hojnacki, Diane Meyer and Laura Hart Newlon. Alper appropriates anonymous black-and-white snapshots of ordinary people, puts them through the computer, and comes up with images of freaks, like a grinning little boy with a grotesque oblong-shaped head; so much for sentimentality. Hojnacki prints on paper on which he has placed tape and spackle so that his images are broken up and partially decomposed, as in his stunning color scene of a truck plowing through a chaotic storm of detritus. Diane Meyer reduces her embroidered photographs to images resembling wavering graph paper. Laura Hart Newlon, who achieves the most striking subversion, places Read the rest of this entry »
Pablo Soria, “Una cama y el entramado de posibles sueños,” 2012
Photography lends itself to surrealism more than any other visual medium does, by virtue of its manifold possibilities for representing a scene. Argentinian photographer Pablo Soria does the trick of defamiliarizing the ordinary by shooting large-format, sharp, starkly illuminated nighttime color images taken under long exposure times, producing brilliant dreamlike studies of his native San Miguel de Tucuman. Sometimes Soria moves into the frame as the film remains exposed, so that he appears as a ghostly presence; but he is most successful and fixates our attention when he envelopes us in intimate woodland sites in which he places an empty bed or chair, disturbing sparkling pristine nature with some uncertain human artifact and purpose. A rude wooden bench sits on the rough brown ground at the very bottom of the frame as stalks of semi-tropical plants, some of them sere, tower above it into the impenetrable darkness. This is a place for nocturnal dwarves; no doubt, one of them—in his own mind—is the artist. Read the rest of this entry »
Back in the heyday of feminist photography, a quarter century ago, its practitioners often effaced, blurred, cut or otherwise mangled their ubiquitous self-portraits in an orgy of agonized self-rebirth and transformation, and then it stopped. Now Mel Keiser has picked up the neglected practices, taking color images of herself and hacking out substantial parts of them producing swirls, tangles and shards that cover her body and its surroundings in an expressionistic storm. Keiser’s intent is revealed in the title of her series, “ecorches”—flaying the flesh for the purposes of torture, science or both. Yet although the agony is unmistakable in the photo-works, they are too vibrant, dynamic and densely lush to suppress an ecstatic participation in them, whatever the psychic consequences might be. Covered in sharp-edged shards of glass, her face and torso horrifically scarred and pocked, in the colors of dried blood, it still seems as though Keiser is breaking out of a prison and preparing to rule the world. Read the rest of this entry »
Chicago’s premier celebrity photographer, Marc Hauser, excels at set-ups that amp-up the distinctive attitudes of his subjects, often embedding them in striking backgrounds. In his latest series of large-format color images, the context has invaded the skin in the form of elaborate tattoos that cover the subjects’ bodies. This presents a problem: Do we lose ourselves in the labyrinthine tattoos, or are we drawn to their bearers, whom Hauser has posed and presented so that they are as attractive as can be? It is impossible to have both visual experiences at once, so the only solution is to adopt each approach in turn, and then repeat the process, getting two pictures for the viewing of one. Read the rest of this entry »
Luis González Palma, “Virginal,” 2011
Throughout his career as a world-class photo artist, Luis Gonzalez Palma has always done what it turns out he had to do—register in tellingly emotional photo-works the state of his soul or, if we prefer to be naturalistic, his psyche. He went through Central American nationalism (Guatemala is his base), critical Catholicism, troubled masculinity, and existential agony and absence, to name just a few of his transformations, and now he has reached the point where the subjects of his sepia-toned tableaux express a uniform attitude of tight-lipped, harsh defiance—whether his model is male or female, strong or weak. It seems that Gonzalez Palma is saying that even though he knows that death faces us all, he will not be broken. In a repetitive triptych, a man sits at a school desk, with impenetrable mathematical formulas on a blackboard next to him, looking straight ahead, unwilling to submit to the enigma that existence has always been to him. This is not the last chapter. As long as Gonzalez Palma stays alive, he will surely continue to search for the light that has never yet come.
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Jess Dugan, “Erica and Kritsa 2012″
As a precipitate of the relation between the photographer and the subject, the portrait inscribes a balance of power, in which one of the two dominates the subject’s representation. In Jess Dugan’s color portraits of people in the LGBT community (she herself is in the process of changing from female to male), Dugan takes the lead. All of her subjects radiate an unremitting intensity—never relaxed, betraying a smile in only a few cases, and yet never painted and certainly never stoical, dispassionate or nonchalant. They communicate a burning defiance, a sense that “I will not be moved,” that is diversified by each one’s particular temperament and physical bearing—Dugan does not homogenize her subjects; she simply gives each of them a signature attitude, one that every person takes at some moments in life. Dugan’s most striking work is a double-portrait diptych in which two women interrupt each other’s personal space. Their gestures suggest both a slap and a caress, yet neither subject is erotic or aggressive, only deeply intent. Their interaction breaches the frame’s divide to unite the double portrait. (Michael Weinstein)
Through October 27 at Schneider Gallery, 230 West Superior
In this group show of conceptual color photographers, Lydia Panas stands out with her portraits of young men, women and children sharply etched against deep black backgrounds as they hold food in their hands. In all cases, the subjects are as doleful as can be, exuding discomfort and displeasure, and, in consequence, subverting the references to life and its bounty that would ordinarily awaken affirmation. Read the rest of this entry »