JTF (just the facts): A group show consisting of a total of 27 photographic works by 20 different photographers/artists, variously framed and mounted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space and the back viewing room. All of the works were made between 2008 and 2012. Edition size/information for each piece was not available on the checklist. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: Trying to pin down an exacting definition of “contemporary photography”, an ultimate list of what’s in and what’s out, has proven to be an elusive, frustrating, and perhaps even delusional, pastime. Do we distinguish between or eliminate camera-less images, photograms, darkroom effects, collage, montage, and rephotography/appropriation? Or do we just include anything and everything that has its output as a photographic print, regardless of the intermediate processes used to make it? Where are the edges and bright lines? These kinds of questions and debates have become even more puzzling with the increasingly broad use of digital technology and the advent of countless new printing processes. The boundaries of our photographic playing field are getting murkier every day.
This smart show declares this kind of old school thinking tired and outdated. It sees contemporary photography at the nexus of interdisciplinary art making, where the definitional intersections between traditional photography and painting, sculpture, performance art, collage, computer-based art, and other less well defined genres are less clear or even important. Processes and techniques from various disciplines are layered on top of each other, creating hybridized end products that defy easy categorization. We’re now living in the in-between spaces and borderlands of art, where the rules are less well enforced and the outcomes less predictable, and this multivalent thinking is offering new avenues for exploration and experimentation.
There really isn’t a single straightforward “photograph” in this entire exhibit. Letha Wilson merges nature photographs and cement into an abstract object with textural roughness and slashing elegance. John Houck starts with computer-generated all-over grids of color, which are then repeatedly folded and rephotographed to create subtle undulations and angles. Jessica Eaton’s piece begins with a pile of sculptural blocks which are then painstakingly masked off in-camera in small squares, resulting in a single aggregate exposure that becomes a shifting, chance-driven geometric mass of color. Matthew Stone starts with a seemingly classical nude, overlays it with a draped fabric reproduction, and outputs the image on wood, creating a multi-layered, fleshy distortion with unexpected textural warmth. Talia Chetrit resizes everyday coins into a deceptive trail of conceptual breadcrumbs. And Lucas Blalock turns Tums (or are they SweetTarts) into a decorative pattern of pink and purple spots. Performances are staged, photographs are overpainted, collage elements are added, and unconventional ideas and methods are free to spread and evolve, sometimes melding two or three previously separate approaches or discrete steps into a unconventionally heady brew.
I think this kind of show is a message from the future. It indicates that the simplistic Photoshop effects of a decade ago are far in the rear view mirror. What lies ahead, at least on the bleeding edge, is the mature investigation of multiple media in concert, with the artist employing increasingly sophisticated levels of control to achieve his/her desired results. The camera is just one tool in the overstuffed tool box, and the thought patterns we bring from the world of vintage photography will be increasingly irrelevant. This show is fresh, and challenging, and unexpected, and this new style of “photography” is going to knock us out of our comfort zone until we begin to accept that the edges we once drew around the medium have been erased.
Collector’s POV: In general, none of these photographers/artists has much, if any, secondary market history. As a result, gallery retail will be the best option for those collectors interested in following up.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
More information available at: http://dlkcollection.blogspot.com/2012/05/photography-is-higher-pictures.html