Showing posts with label FotoFest. Show all posts
Showing posts with label FotoFest. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

For My European Photographer Friends

LonelyGondolierNo1, originally uploaded by carolsLittleWorld.

Almost every time I participate in some kind of portfolio review, I get an email from one of my "photo buddies" over in Europe. "It's too bad they don't have stuff like this where I live!" the email starts out, "you're so lucky!"

Well, my fine European friends, your luck has run out (or run, um, "in" as the case may be.) Indeed, they do have European photography reviews and I thought I would share an email that I got, to pass along the information with you. (Apologies for my State-side shooters-you'll have to either just drool or save up your old film canisters with a lot of pennies in order to afford an airline ticket for this one.)

So, without further ado, here are two portfolio review type opportunities. (Insert drum roll here!)

The first opportunity is in Birmingham, UK and runs from July 29 - August 1, 2010. It's called Rhubarb-Rhubarb and it was one of the first professional portfolio reviews in Europe. Many of the artists who show there work here move onto showing their work at FotoFest and other international biennials, not to mention the review itself tries to pay close attention to the needs of the artists.

The 2010 Rhubarb review, "Collision - Where Image Worlds Meet," is designed for photographers wishing to explore the cross overs between multiple genres - documentary, commercial and fine art practice. International reviewers from all these genres will be reviewing work at Rhubarb. For more details, see the website at (This last paragraph is taken from their website.)

The next opportunity is in Paris and is called "Lens Culture FotoFest Paris 2010." It will be held in Paris, France from November 15 - 17, 2010 and the website of interest is According to their published "blurb," this is, " a new forum for photography portfolio reviews in Paris. Lens Culture and FotoFest International are collaborating on a new portfolio review program. Over three days, 120 photographers will engage in one-on-one meetings and portfolio reviews with 40 international photography experts, including museum curators, gallery owners, festival directors, publishers, and representatives from photo agencies. The meetings will take place at Speos Paris Photographic Institute." For more details, please see their website.

So, there you have it. Two opportunities for my European photographer friends. I don't know how you'd say "good luck!" in French (or, you know, Hungarian for that matter) so I'll have to say "Good Luck!" for those headed to Birmingham or Paris and leave it at that. Hopefully the rest of my European shooting buddies have good pocket translators.

Until next time...

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Part V on FotoFest-The "I Can't Believe You Missed...." Post

BurstingWeeds, originally uploaded by carolsLittleWorld.

It's been a while since I started my FotoFest ramblings, but I realized that I never finished posting them, so here's a short piece to help wrap things up. Since I've yapped on and on about some of the "way cool" work I've seen at FotoFest, I thought it *finally* time to talk about some of the good stuff I know I missed and I thought it might be a good idea to do this today, while some folks were returning back to work (and wanted something a bit more substantial to read.)

I hinted at the Keith Carter exhibit-I managed to catch some of it, but missed seeing it in full swing. We did manage to catch a few leftover prints and a few odds and ends though and I'm sorry I missed the entire exhibit.

Some of my friends, had some work up at the Museum of Printing History. In a show called "Photography: Printing with Light" that explored alternative processes, there was work included by several folks I know, including Ed Buffaloe, Chricel E. Portela, Michael Rigby, Terri St. Arnauld, Ann Texter, Spiffy Tumbleweed, and Kathryn Watts-Martinez. I'm really sorry I did not make it over to see this show, by all accounts it was a must see and I'm really sorry I missed it.

Allison Hunter's "Zoosphere" looks like it was really cool-it was a multi-channel video installation with sound that captures zoo animals in gallery spaces.

The Lawndale Arts Center is always good and I missed going there. Shelley Calton's "Traces of Her" is an interesting series-it's one I have encountered on the gallery circuit before, but I did miss seeing it at FotoFest. The DeSantos Gallery had an exhibit by Austin's own Sarah Sudhoff, called "At the Hour of Our Death" that explores the last mark's people make as they die-stains on textiles. This work looks a bit gory but interesting and also ranks high on the "sorry I missed it" category.

David A. Brown's "Unfiltered, trying to find my way..." 3-D series looked absolutely stunning and I'm sorry to miss this as well. Michele Wambaugh's "The String Theory of Cities" looked really interesting too.

And then there's Steve McCurry. You might not recognize his name, and you might not even know his face, but it's not his face that makes up his most iconic image. No, it's a face he once photographed-a face in Afghanistan in 1984 that makes this show worthy of a look. From the blurb in the book, "Afghan Girl appeared on the June 1985 cover of National Geographic. The image-she wears a red scarf draped loosely over her head and her piercing sea-green eyes stare directly into the camera-became a symbol both of the 1980's Afghan conflict and of the refugee situation worldwide. The image itself was named "the most recognized photograph" in the history of the magazine." All that and I missed it. Damn! (You can see a "virtual tour" of the image at this link.)

Geoff Winningham and Loli Kantor both had exhibitions that I would have liked to have seen. Laurie Lambrecht presented "Inside Roy Lichtenstein's Studio" and "Re-Imagining Place" by Rusty Scruby and Susan Wides looked really interesting. There was a show on "New Visualism: Abstractions in Photography" and also one exploring social media, called "Poke!" that looked really interesting and finally, there was "International Discoveries II" to showcase talent discovered by curatorial staff from events across the world. Looks like some really interesting work in that, so I'm sorry I missed it.

FotoFest has tons of work and I'm really glad I got to see as much work as I did, but there's always more. Every year I swear I say the same thing-next time, I'm going to stay for longer than a day and get out to visit more stuff. Maybe one year, I'll make it to visit Meeting Place while it's in full swing and not just stop there for iced tea on my way around. Yes, yes, I know, here's hoping, right?

Until next time...

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Part IV from FotoFest-Leaping into the Void

LoneTree, originally uploaded by carolsLittleWorld.

After our trip downtown, we headed into the museum district to catch some shows in this area of the city. We knew ahead of time that this would be packed with shows, so we plotted which exhibitions to see in order to maximize our time there, and see the most work we possibly could, given the limitations of time. (Oh, how I wish I could spend more time at FotoFest!)

First, we went to the Menil collection-the Menil was sponsoring a FotoFest-related exhibition called "Leaps into the Void: Documents of Nouveau Realist Performance." According to the brochure, "On October 23, 1960, photographer Harry Shunk's camera captured artist Yves Klein hurling himself from a Parisian rooftop. The now iconic image, which has had a lasting influence on performance art, is one of some thirty works-by artists including Niki de Saint Phalle, Jean Tinguely, Christo, and Arman-gathered for the exhibition "Leaps into the Void."

The thing about the Menil is that, well, it doesn't even have to have any photography in it to make it special. It's a wonderful building, great architecture, and a great collection, without the addition of any photography. Seriously. This is like a "must see" if you ever decide to visit Houston. The FotoFest exhibit was interesting in that it explored the link between performance art and photography. I have to admit, this is one area of photography (and, in some ways, art itself) I'm not very up on (or into.) I kind of let the whole performance art thing sort of slide by me, which is probably short-sighted on my part but, hey, I have limited resources and there's only so much art even I can take, so that's how it goes. I did love seeing the Menil, and l loved the photos there, so I would not label it a waste of time, not by any stretch, but the limitations of my knowledge and appreciation here really come into play, so I won't give you a more detailed description, other than to say I enjoyed viewing the collection. The Menil has great work-the Christo piece was next to one of Mondrian's color block pieces, and I remember thinking, "oh, I'm going to have to blog about that!" In fact, I almost inadvertently backed into a Mondrian. I'm sure that must make me one of the worst art clowns who ever lived, let alone pick up a pen (or, um, "typeface" as the case may be) so let's just put that out there and leave it at that.

Ok, so now that I've bored you with the "I love the Menil. Go to the Menil. Enjoy the Menil" talk, I should also mention the Houston Center for Photography (HCP.) This little talk is going to come with a warning.

I love HCP, really I do. I think I was actually a member of HCP at one point (I might still be.) HCP usually has some of the best photography exhibits in town (Houston) and it's a great place (usually) to go and sit and enjoy work. It's a creative place, with digital darkrooms available to outsiders, learning and classes going on all the time, and almost always has some cutting edge work. This time around, we were not so much disappointed, no, some of the work was actually quite nice, but the place itself really put us off.

For starters, well, let me talk about the work I liked first. Anthony Goicolea's series "Related" explored his family-four generations of Cubans who fled to the United States in 1961 just after the Bay of Pigs invasion. Leaving Cuba with only their photographs and "wearing their Sunday best" the series was a worthy exploration of family documentation as well as a personal exploration. This was work worth seeing.

W.M. Hunt's "Regroups" was an interesting exhibition. As a collector, he amassed group photos from different periods of time, across different landscapes. Some might right off this type of work as "outsider" art, so be it, but it was interesting to see, probably more for the historical relevance than the pure "fine art" aspect of it. It too was an exhibition worthy of a look.

I had seen Beatrice Reinhardt's "American Clubs" series before and it was no less powerful this time around. The work explores social spaces-the type of spaces like VFW halls, Community halls, Gun and Hunting clubs, and the sort of places where people come together, but remain apart. It's an interesting series and she shot it well, so this work too is worthy of a look.

Perhaps one of my favorite things about HCP, which was sadly ruined this time around, is the library. Tucked in the back of the building is a wonderful photo library, complete with lots of out-of-print, hard to find, and just oddball photo books. This is a favorite spot, one I happily enjoy visiting whenever I made it down to HCP. This time, however, the space was occupied by some lady loudly talking on her cell phone. Sitting there for at least 20 minutes, she was carrying on a full conversation quite loudly, preventing myself and several others from using the space as a library (it's intended purpose.) Sadly, HCP needs to implement a complete "No Cell Phones" policy-there were people yapping on the phone in all corners of the joint, with the library being the sort of "last straw." It's rude to do this, but it really interferes with people enjoyment of the work. This type of behavior is how the "snob factor" really comes into photography-people think photographers are snobs, and we aren't, but we're viewed that way as long as photographers behave rudely and put off patrons by ignoring them and yapping loudly on their cell phones instead. Please, I'm begging you, HCP, implement a "no cell phone zone" not just for your own good, but for the good of the medium.

There I said it. Now, let's move on.

We went to the Anya Tish Gallery to view Begona Egurbide's "Precipice" exhibition. I will address this in a separate post, since it was my high point of FotoFest and deserves a full post all by itself. To avoid spoiling it, I will only say that it was followed a close second by Charles Grogg's "Reconstrucitons" which I will talk about next.

After Anya Tish, we went over to the "Gallery Row" area of Houston, to check out the shows there. Gallery Row has about 8 or 9 different galleries, arranged on a single block, it's sort of a side street. It's a wonderful palace to visit and this time around it did not disappoint. We had missed the Keith Carter exhibit at McMurtrey Gallery but they still had some of his work up and we talked with the people there for a while. It was mostly work from Keith I had seen before, with a few exceptions-he has a new figurative series and they had a few pieces left from that for us to take a look at. Keith's work is very narrative and that too was a big theme this year as well.

Charles Grogg's "Reconstructions" was a must-see. This is one of the examples I hinted at earlier, where visual artists are giving the camera a new look and moving fine art photography out of the realm of the traditional. Grogg's series was handcrafted by printing platinum/palladium images on Japanese sumi-like paper and then hand stitching them together to create a single handcrafted piece. Each single finished piece was made up of these many paper prints, and each was more stunningly beautiful than the next. This goes way beyond the "I can paint with my camera" and plants photography firmly into the visual arts media. From Grogg's website, his process is described as, "The images in this portfolio are platinum/palladium, handcoated on handmade Japanese gampi. Each piece of the nine-piece image is individually exposed under sunlight, washed, dried, and then sewn with cotton thread onto a larger piece of Japanese washi. Each print is then float mounted in a walnut, maple, or kiaat espresso-stained artist's frame." These were absolutely beautiful to see and I would encourage you to take a peek at this work on Grogg's website here. I really cannot do justice by trying to describe these prints, this just falls into the "Go! Look! Now!" category and it's one of the things I so love at FotoFest-all the little discoveries that happen along the way.

I bought a book of Michael Levin's "Zebrato" series at the Thornwood Gallery because I fell in love with this tone poet's black and white images. Sometimes, you just get taken by the tone, and that's what happened to me the moment I saw Levin's work. I'm a sucker for good tonal range, what can I say? Thornwood had some great black and white work up, as did the John Cleary Gallery.

We ended our (oh so long!) day with a stop at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston's exhibition which was also packed full of work. The gift shop there alone is worth the trip-I managed to pickup two Cindy Sherman books, one I had wanted for a long time. They had a copy of her "Clowns" book which I had wanted for a while and which is almost impossible to find on places like Amazon or even in the local bookstore. I'd have to say the prices were a bit higher this year, though last time I might have gotten lucky with the big Brassai book for $5. Of course, that almost killed me, since it was so big, but it's still a beautiful book, I'm glad I lugged it back from Houston. One of my other photographer friends, BJ, said she stopped in the Half Price Books in Houston and snagged several books she wanted for $1 so I think the bargains were still out there, just maybe I had gone book shopping a bit more this year, in the days leading up to my trip to FotoFest, so I wasn't as eager to jump in quite as much. The gift shop is still a high point of the trip for me, as they always seem to have something on sale and, even in a bad year, I wind up taking three or four books home, so it's all good there.

Still to come, my high point of FotoFest (more on "Precipice") and some of the things I managed to miss (yes, believe it or not, even seeing all of this work, I did manage to miss some things I wanted to see.)

Until next time...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

More From FotoFest-Part III the Meeting Place that Wasn't

RoadCurvesToHouse, originally uploaded by carolsLittleWorld.

After the dirt road and the, "Drats! I brought my camera but we don't have time to take any pictures" very cool industrial complex, complete with the very cool "The Road to Nowhere?" show, we headed straight into downtown Houston to go and see something called "Discoveries of the Meeting Place." And, I do mean right into downtown Houston-we were literally sitting at the tallest buildings that dot the skyline, hoping we'd parked in a good spot and wondering if there was anything worth visiting inside the cold corporate office structures.

Now, for those of you who are unfamiliar with "the meeting place" a bit of an explanation is in order here. The meeting place is a part of FotoFest where photographers can sign-up for portfolio reviews. These aren't ordinary portfolio reviews-no, these are the kind of reviews (with the kind of people) who can make a career. The meeting place is more than just your typical "vanilla" portfolio review. To quote from the book, "In 2008, 417 artists from twenty-eight countries participated in FotoFest's portfolio reviews. Each curator, or "reviewer," met and saw the work of more than fifty individual artists during his/her time at the Meeting Place. The ten artists exhibiting in 2010 Discoveries of the Meeting Place reflect the intersection of art and social ideas as well as the purely aesthetic concerns of artists working today." That's not a mistake-417 artists came from around the globe, all descending upon the Doubletree Hotel in downtown Houston, all sitting there with cohesive bodies of new, cutting edge, original work, in some cases representing years of professional development and personal investment on behalf of the photographer, all waiting patiently to become "the next big thing" in the photographic world. To give you an idea of how pivotal the Meeting Place is, I won't even apply there-I won't even think about applying there, and I have a cohesive body of work and have gotten a one-person show in a reputable gallery. It's just too important and I feel I'm too "not quite ready yet." To give you an idea of how esteemed it is, you don't hear me say that very much (I'm typically a more "in your face" type of photographer, at least when it comes to putting my work out there-I'm one who tends to just shove it into consideration for opportunities and hope for the best-typically I enter shows I feel are out of reach just because I think that, well, somebody has to get in and I might get lucky, right? Not so with the Meeting Place-I don't want to blow an opportunity and don't want to waste anybody's time until I feel good and ready.) Anyway, personal reflections (and egos) aside, the Meeting Place is sort of like ground zero for up-and-coming photographers. It follows too that the Discoveries of the Meeting Place would be just as dynamic, a virtual ground zero of "ground zero's" so we headed there to have a look.

My first observation was that it was completely empty. Except for a few lone security guards, there was nobody there. A meeting place with nobody to meet? At first, we were a bit worried, since we had parked, gotten out, found the place, found the correct floor and all-approaching the gallery as we did we saw what appeared to be a few lone images hung up and nobody (minus the guard at the desk) in sight. A bit puzzled, but we decided to go and have a closer look anyway. Maybe it was all of the running around we did, or maybe it was the open architecture of the building, but, upon closer inspection, we found some really great work (and lots of it!) Of course, it was sort of around the corner and we didn't see it as we first walked up. Shame on us, but we soldiered on and found the work (eventually) though we now are left wondering a bit why don't they make hand-held GPS devices for lost/clueless idiots like us. A lonely and almost hidden (well, to us) Meeting Place aside, there was some really great work here, I'm very glad we found it (even if by almost-accident, though the nice folks at the headquarters did give us good directions and we even had a map. Go figure-must be the disorientation of the downtown buildings or the clueless and complete lack of direction of yours truly.)

The book, the FotoFest guide, of course, was right. The biggest thing about the Meeting Place overall was the diversity. There was work that cut across the spectrum of photography in so many different ways-everything from social documentary to pure art to, well, Jell-o (more on this later.) Seriously, Jell-O was represented here, I mean, how often do you find that?

Rachael Papo had a "girls in the military" series that explored the life of the feminine soldier. Dona Schwartz had a fresh modern look at "domestications" called "On the Nest" which was a refreshing change from the typical "let's bring baby home and take a picture" norm that one might expect. Emma Livingston had a series called NOA that featured large scale large format painterly images of the Argentine Northwest that were outstanding-very textural, lush, and painterly-a real treat for the eyes. Sara Terry had a series called "In My Life: the story of an ex-girl soldier" focused on the horrors of being a child soldier. Annotated with text, these images were very moving and thought provoking-really a glimpse into another world. Toby Morris had a series called "A Selection of Images from Recent Portrait Projects" that could best be described as fun and Ion Zupcu presented a series called "Painted Cubes." This series marked another trend for me, one that would also pop up on our trip to Gallery Row, and that's the "combination" of photography and art-or photography as art, was really big this year. There was a lot of drawing mixed with painting, a lot of painterly images, a lot of people doing sketches and then photographing them, a lot of mixed media, but more than just the usual "mixed media" it was as if artists were "spewing" into the world of photography. Gone are the days when photographers were barricaded into the back of the "art house" chamber, over are the days when, as I think it was Bill Jay who once so aptly said, "if the art world were a cafe, the photographers would be fighting for crumbs under the table." No, FotoFest made it clear that artists are using cameras more than ever before or, at least, proudly admitting it in public these days-both Ion Zupcu's and Emma Livingston's work were a nod towards this, as they both featured unabashed painterly images-Zupcu's images were derived directly from his sketches and, it's clear to see, he's got his feet planted firmly both in the world of the "traditional" artist (charcoal) and in the "brave new world" of photography. Sure, there's always been fine art photography before, and there have always been visual artists sort of "moonlighting" as photographers, but it's clear that this is a new trend emerging. Gone are the days when the visual art crowd would have to sort of "look photographic a bit," out are the posers, the artists who sort of "dabble" with a camera-there's a new "in your face" about this work-it's almost like they are standing up and saying, "yeah. So. I'm an artist. What are you going to make of it?" I love that actually (probably because, well, as you could guess, "Yeah. So. I'm an artist too.") We're seeing a true blending of both worlds in ways I don't think I've seen before and it's kind of refreshing. It's a true change of pace and a complete acceptance on the part of the artists for photography and the use of the camera that I've not seen much before.

Andy Freeberg had a clever series called "Sentry" about the front of galleries-literally the front of galleries-how cold, stark and industrial the gallery world can look to an outsider and Christopher Sims gave us "Theater of War: The Pretend Villages of Iraq and Afghanistan" which was work focused on the staging of war drills.

Finally, I promised you Jell-o and, yes, Jell-o I'm going to deliver. Liz Hickok's series called "Molds and Models" featured images that she created using molds and models, some out of actual Jell-o and then photographed. Perhaps taking the "photography/art what's the difference?" trend a bit further down that right-brained path, Hickok actually made entire cities out of Jell-o and then photographed them. (Yes, entire cities. Yes, Jell-o. Yes photographed entire small scaled cities made of Jell-o. I know it's a bit "wiggly" but it's true!) It was amazing work-playful, interesting, creative, fun all rolled into one. This type of work builds somewhat upon The Architect's Brother type of work, it's staged photography at its best-staged to the point where the photographer is actually building something, creating something for the sole purpose of photographing it. In what can best be described as "you can keep your reality, I'll take my own little world, thank you very much" type of work, the series Hidden Agendas and Unutterable from Judy Haberl was work along the same lines-she actually created purses (complete with contents) out of ice and then photographed them as they were melting. Looking almost encaustic-like, though completely 3-D, this type of work is actually moving beyond the staged and more into the "constructed" realm. Of course, it might just be a personal thing, but I really love this for so many reasons. For starters, it eliminates some of the "copy work" that can happen with photography-good luck trying to find tripod holes when you've set out to copy a city made of Jell-o or a melting purse carved from a block of ice-but it also opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Gone are the days when photographers are limited by the real-nope, we're now just like painters-if we can dream it, we can make it happen, and this is, perhaps most importantly, a newly found freedom. It's like the shackles of reality have been lifted from photography and we're finally allowed to play on the big kids swing set. How cool is that, I mean, really, as a photographer, what's not to love about that, right? Silly Putty, anyone?

So, to sum it up, the Meeting Place was not very, er, "meeterly" (since we were the only folks there) but it was a great find and a wonderful display of range, passion, expression, and creativity. Totally worth the stop on this year's FotoFest and, I know it's probably getting old, but FotoFest was totally worth a stop period.

Still to come, our trip to the Menil, Gallery Row, The Houston Center for Photography, and some wild 3-D work that was a true high point (in an already high-flying FotoFest) for me.

Until next time...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Road to Nowhere (part II from FotoFest)

RoadToNowhere, originally uploaded by carolsLittleWorld.

The next exhibition we attended was called "The Road to Nowhere?" and was held at Winter Street Studios. Perhaps the biggest objection I have in this work lies in the title-though our trusty GPS would tend to agree and conspire against us. Allow me to explain. After attending the shows at the FotoFest headquarters, we punched in the address of the studio and were on our way. The Winter Street Studios were down what could only be described as a "dirt-ish" road, which ran alongside a rail road track in what was a highly industrial area. Luckily Kathy knew such places existed in Houston as I was completely out of my league here-I didn't know Houston even had such places, let alone the "barking" our GPS would generate about driving into one-this "dirt road-ish" alley did not make our GPS happy, let me tell you. Location aside, this was another exceptional exhibit although, "The Road to Nowhere?" could best be described as "All Roads Should Lead Here" since this was some really compelling original cutting edge "wow" kind of work (GPS barking aside.)

Upon entering the space, we encountered the work of one of my current favorite photographers, Brian Ulrich. In his series "Dark Stores, Ghost Boxes and Dead Malls" Ulrich assembled strong night-based architectural work featuring abandoned "big box" stores-places like dead Targets, old Value City's, even abandoned Sax Fifth Avenues are not immune. If nothing else, it's interesting to see how instantly recognizable an abandoned Circuit City is or how easily recalled a dead Target store comes to be, but this work goes way beyond that. It's a testament to our consumerism, our recent "economic bubbles" corporate melt-downs and such-Ulrich plays this out on a well-executed strongly composed canvas for all the world to see. Once you see this work, you really take away a sense of "big" and "empty" as his use of space, his execution and compositional choices really emphasize this. This type of work is also representative of a new trend, almost an entire new movement in photography, one that I like the call "the new breed of consumerism" with focus on the shopper, the pawns in the economic downturn, the "great game" of Wall Street, the global credit crunch and the housing crisis. Gone are the pretty flowers, the glowing housewife images all smiling with pearls and beads, the pretty suburbia with the well-manicured lawns and white picket fences-left in the wake are the empty big boxes, the foreclosures, the hollow reminders of the shallow existence we all led during the "boom" years. It's very much a "rub your face in it" kind of existence, gritty work without being "dirty" but, perhaps, by reminding us how "dirty" we have become as a society-and that's dirty in the true sense of the word-using it up and spitting it out, almost like garbage for a new decade. This work reminds us of the true "consumers" we have become-eating it up and spitting it out until there's nothing left but the appetite. Welcome to the new state of economic affairs-it's not same as it ever was, now it's more like a "wish you were here" or even an "is anybody out there? Does anybody care?" sense of melancholy abandonment. It's a hunger, it's a void, it's a frame left from a previously hollow existence pitched up like a tent for all the world to see and it plays out in Ulrich's work to the hilt.

Perhaps equally compelling and along the same lines is the work of Tim Davis. Davis puts a creative spin on the consumerism aesthetic by showing us typical looking houses-houses with reflections in the windows. Each house bears the "mark" of the new breed of consumer culture-the Jiffy Lube sign reflected in the front window, or a Burger King crown showing up in an otherwise suburban-esque picture window. It's a more "they're creeping up to get us" kind of focus for this type of work but one that's no less effective, not to mention the technical skills of Davis don't hurt any either. These are well-executed images born of a common thread-signs, reflections, consumers lurking within the boundaries of otherwise "ordinary" photos. Davis is definitely one to watch.

Greta Pratt's series Liberty presented a multi-cultural view of people dressed up in a Statue of Liberty outfit. These images were not only creative but they were glorious portraits-perhaps one of the downfalls of FotoFest, at least how it exists in the new digital era, is that people tend to want to look at work online. Pratt's images were one of several bodies of work that I would have to say work against that logic-these are images that really benefit from an up close an in-person viewing. Much of the subtlety, the softness, the skill (in fact) is "lost in the translation" of the digital realm. This is work that, I can only hope, you get to see up close and in person someday as it's worth viewing.

Eirik Johnson's work from the Pacific Northwest was a big draw for me, in part because I've never been to that region of the country. In his series "Sawdust Mountain" Johnson explores the nature of the logging community in the region-how it's both a blessing and a curse-since the towns rely upon logging for income yet all but rape the land of resources over the course of logging for profit. After viewing the work, and not knowing the backstory, I'd have to say that Johnson presents a compelling look into a world previously unknown to me. It's the kind of portraiture that's both tough and tender, ready to tell a story, and be a bit in your face about it, yet oddly shy about shouting you down as well. It's that sort of visual tension that can really make a body of work a success and, I'd have to say, Johnson's work really transported me into his world, if only few a few minutes.

Myra Greene's series "My White Friends" was a well-executed portrait series-I especially liked her interior lighting and overall mood of the images. Here again is the multi-cultural viewpoint, though this time a bit more subtle yet not any less effective. She brings a consistent view to her work, it's a very tight portrait series that's very compelling.

Sheila Pree Bright's work was nothing short of spectacular for me. Her series called "Suburbia" is one that, on the surface, might sound like the type of work anybody else might do. It's her execution that really floored me here-Bright is one of those photographers capable of capturing that elegant, almost lyrical quality of light, and her attention to subtle detail really comes over very well. In her "Untitled #12" image, there is a woman sitting in bed, reading Business Week magazine, a lamp all aglow next to her, her cell phone resting by her bedside. The glow from the lamp, the quality of the light with the combined warm light from the lamp contrasted with the cool of the cell phone really adds so much to this image. These are images you can just continue to look at a drink up thanks to the quality of the light and her choices as a photographer. She has another image shot in a bathroom that features a "white on white" style decor, with texture from a bath rug and soft window light coming in to flood the room-it's just quiet elegance, understated beauty, lyrical light and rich texture all over the place. I might be a sucker for that kind of work and, I'm sure it goes out a fashion or will at some point, but I absolutely love it. It's really the kind of photography I could just sit and look at all day long.

Jeff Brouws is one of those people I absolutely hate because he finds (and makes the most of) the best graffiti ever. I have a photographer friend Craig who is like that too-wherever he goes he comes back with the best damn graffiti shots, so much so that I often tease him-accusing him of "going out with chalk and doing it himself." I think maybe after seeing Brouws' work, Craig might have to hang up his chalk, as Brouws found some of the best graffiti around. Among the examples: "USA Talk About Race and Poverty" on a torn apart post-Katrina home in New Orleans, and a sign that reads: "Ain't it Funny how the Factory doors close round the time the school doors close round the time the doors of the jail cell open up to greet you." Wow. Talk about chalk-envy! That's one for the record books. Great slogans aside, he had another series in the gallery featuring shots of surveillance cameras, kind of shooting back and those shooting you, so Brouws goes down as another from FotoFest to watch and learn from, both for his creativity and his luck in finding damn good graffiti.

Next was the work of An-My Le, a photographer who applied to go overseas as part of the "embeddeds" but was denied, instead shooting in California in the vicinity of training facilities and "fake" Iraqi villages. Proving that "silver is far from dead" these were large-scale silver gelatin prints masterfully done-more work that's best seen up close and personal. The rich tonality and deep shadows of silver aren't lost the way new digital media can sometimes obscure them.

Some of the most novel, original, and creative series of FotoFest were included in this show. Called "The Other Night Sky" photographer Trevor Paglen basically shot back-the work consisted of images of the night sky with classified satellites and aircraft flying within it. This work was also a fascinating blend of the real fine art as well as the social documentary-the use of space and fields of color really make these images pop and give them an almost painterly feel while the underlying, almost equally compelling message about war, society and government secrets adds a social documentary credibility to otherwise elegant images featuring expanses of space. Kudos to Paglen for showing us not only the night sky in its glory but what the government is up to while we're maybe not paying such close attention.

Paul Shambroom presented a series called "Shrines: Public Weapons in America" examines the public display of our weapons. This is one of those series that is perhaps a more "photographer's photography" type of series, as only a photographer would really appreciate how difficult it might be to amass such a collection. Shambroom does it well, showing us glimpses of air defense and cruise missiles out on parade.

Erika Larsen's series "Young Blood" examines the world of the young hunter-everything from "guns to glory" including a "first kill" shot-it's hard not to look at this kind of stuff and *not* see the juxtaposition of the young and the dead as some kind of statement, indeed Larsen does just that, but the series shows an impartial view. The kills are sort of cut and dry, speaking for themselves rather than shouting at us and that's a much appreciated presentation for this kind of material. Along the same "guns and glory" line was Greg Stimac's still work featuring shots of people shooting guns. In Stimac's work, one really gets the sense of being an outsider looking into a foreign world, at least that comes across, as the images are less about the focus on the young and more about the modern gun culture.

Perhaps my favorite Stimac series was called "Mowing the Lawn." It featured shots of people, you guess it, mowing the lawn. While this might sound trite and, frankly a bit boring, my description is not going to do it justice. This work really brought a smile to my face-it was creative, different, fresh, obvious yet so "smack upside your head" it was almost laughable yet serious and contemplative all at the same time. The irony of just showing us people mowing lawns-different lawns, different people, different places, was not lost on me and the work was very well-done. As they say in the movies, I liked it, I really liked it though, here again, it was one of those things you just had to see for yourself.

A video installation in this exhibit was called "91/2 hours to Santa Fe" and featured the footage of Nic Nicosia driving from Dallas to Santa Fe. This is yet another body of work along the lines of being obvious yet compelling at the same time. Nicosia drove with cameras mounted on his car and shoot footage of the drive across Texas and New Mexico. In a sort of "everything, even the kitchen sink is included" no holes barred style of film, this is democracy of the camera in action-nothing gets highlighted but nothing, too, gets "low lighted." It's all her, plain as day, to enjoy on screen, and I have to admit, I found myself sitting, resting, and watching some of those miles just rolling on by. I can't say that I'd want to watch four thousand hours of something like this but, as an inclusion in FotoFest, it was a welcome break from the norm.

Victoria Sambunaris had large format scenic landscapes along the lines of "consumerism" work-with images of dams, mining, quarries, and oil pipelines, this was perhaps the most "you have to see this in person" series of work included in the exhibitions this year. The detail, scale, and perspective of the view camera is in great hands with Sambunaris, making this work both compelling beautiful, technically proficient, and thought provoking all rolled into one. I almost feel a sense of sadness looking at the FotoFest book, as the reproductions do not do justice to the original prints and the land is scared in such horrible ways.

Christina Seely's work, Lux, was another completely compelling body of work that was "brilliant" (if you'll excuse the pun) in more ways than one. Named after the system for measuring illumination, Seely is photographing "bright lights big city" in an entirely new and novel way. She is actually photographing human-made light emanating from the earth's surface and the environmental impact of the carbon dioxide produced by the world's wealthiest countries, as evident in the brightest areas on a satellite map-attempting to photograph the 40 brightest cities in the world over time, showing us the global ramifications of consumption. It's compelling and beautiful work and I can only wish Seely nothing but success in completing her study.

So, GPS barking aside, the "Road to Nowhere?" was a unique compelling exhibit I would highly recommend.

Next in the series, on FotoFest, I'll introduce you to the Discoveries of the Meeting Place and take you to "Gallery Row" for my review of the work on display there.

Until next time...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

FotoFest-The Agony of "Defeat"

Let me start my review of this years FotoFest by saying that I've been to FotoFest before. In years past, I typically go to Houston for a day trip, driving, actually car-pooling, getting an early start and reaching Houston about 10 or 11 am on a Saturday morning. From there it's a full day of dashing through galleries and museums-typically starting at FotoFest headquarters and then making our way to the Houston Center of Photography and the Museum of Fine Arts, where we would stop for lunch, then onto Gallery row. No doubt, FotoFest was (and always has been) a full day or seeing lots of photography-"wear comfortable shoes" has always been a good motto for the activities of the day.

Not this year. This year, it was a full on war for my feet. There was so much quality work, spread out across so many galleries, museums, and spaces that my feet hurt just thinking about it. It was jam packed-essentially a must see for anyone serious about photography or contemporary photographic work being produced today.

We started out, as always, at the FotoFest headquarters with the first exhibition: Whatever Was Splendid: New American Photographs. There was a lot of quality work in this exhibition alone and it was here we encountered our first of many themes running through the work this year. (I'll try to put the themes in bold so that those skimming along will have some idea of what they were.) Night photography was out in full force this year I saw many examples of many different types of night and long exposure photography. Some examples of this include Will Steacy's work "These Mean Streets" which were Philly and Detroit showing us their deepest growls. That's really the best way to describe Steacy's work-it was mean urban work rising up a growl to meet you. RJ Shaughnessy's night series was compelling as well-this was night work done harsh, with a lot of flash, usually something I would despise, but Shaughnessy really pulled this off, in part because of his beyond competent printing. The prints really had a wonderful glow about them, removing any notion of "snapshot aesthetic" and really planting him firmly into the fine art realm. Reading his statement, he said that he was attempting to garner the look of crime scene photography and I'd have to rate this work as a sweeping success-it was gritty and elegant at the same time, compelling and well-executed, with excellent choices made in printing the work-something we don't always see very often these digital days. Next on the stop at headquarters was a perennial favorite, Todd Hido. The "king of suburban Hell" took no prisoners and was out in full force here, with two separate series this year: Foreclosed Homes and A Road Divided. Since I was already familiar with Hido's work, you would expect no surprises here but that doesn't lesson the draw of this work in any way. In fact, Foreclosed Homes was very delicately shot and printed and demonstrates a master at work-soft subtle shadows, rich textures, attention to small details, clean, crisp compositional choices, uncrowded use of visual space-it's all here and, though you might expect to see this from a master, it was no less a treat for the eyes. Hido's other series was his drive-by's-those of you familiar with my own work know that I'm a sucker for a good "drive by" but, again, here Hido flexes the photographic "muscles" of a master, showing us drives that are poetic, painterly, dreamy, evocative, and well-edited. Since I've shot my own "drive by" series, I can tell you that a lot of the presentation in this type of work lies in the editing and here again Hido shows us his genius-the amount of work was just right for the space, well-selected, concisely edited, and came together to pull off a cohesive encompassing body of work that's compelling and contemplative.

Greg Stimac's video series "Peeling Out" was oddly compelling. Consisting of a simple video of various vehicles "peeling out" you might be tempted to walk by this type of installation without paying it any mind, but the video was interesting and there was something emotionally compelling about it-it really drew me in. There was a lot of video and 3-D type of work this year, more than in year's past and it's clear that some photographers are felling the "pull" of having a video camera attached to their head. The Canon 7D is now a fully-functional HD video camera as well as a state-of-the-art still film camera and, if not just technologically-wise, photographers are feeling the draw over to the video side now more than ever. We saw combination of video and stills, video being incorporated in odd and unusual ways, and the fine line between video and still photography being blurred all over the place.

Craig Mammano and Jane Tam's work at FotoFest headquarters also served to pull in another big theme from this year: there was more multi-cultural based (and focused) work this year than ever before. Now, I might be allowing my suburban "vanilla" upbringing to show here although some of you might find this to be a statement of the obvious opinion rather than fact (forgive me for addressing the gorilla in the room) but photography, in a lot of ways, has always been a rich white man's game. There I said it, and I'm not ashamed to put it out there-it's a matter of quiet acceptance though a subtly accepted fact. And, I do mean, rich, white, and male-not just one, but all three wrapped up together in a pretty little singular cultural "bow" for all to see. Sure, the "rich white men" have always photographed the blacks, the women, the Latinos, the "dot dot dots" in their lives, but, let's face it, the cameras have traditionally been in the hands of the rich white male, always and forever. As a working female photographer, now comes the point you should listen carefully before casting me aside as a racist, sexist, whatever "ist" you'd be tempted to write me off as: in order for fine art photography to grow, and not stifle itself, strangle itself under it's own roots, it needs to expand to include the voices of others. Having said that, I almost feel as if I've let that dirty little secret (read: the rich white man's game) out of the bag, but it's true, at least it's been true, historically accepted in the past, though this year's FotoFest also served as a force to change that. The traditional under-representation of blacks, Hispanics, Latino's, female photographers, Asian-Americans was not present here and though sometimes gritty and not as refined or elegant as the "rich white traditional male masters" of the genre, these fresh new voices represent a leap forward for the medium. I, for one, was very happy to see a less homogenized voice and enjoyed seeing this type of work, though here again, it cannot really be labeled as "type" since this is far from an "us against the world" (or singular) type of viewpoint. Mammano and Tam both featured work that addressed this-with Mammano working in a small urban environment, featuring gritty black and white images while Tam brought us the compelling series "Foreigners in Paradise" focusing on immigrants living in a brave new world.

Also along these lines was Hank Willis Thomas' work featuring ads from the last 40 years-ads that targeted African Americans. The series called Unbranded was an unabashed look at advertising over the years and was quite thought-provoking. Again here a large draw for me about this work was not only in its technical execution but that it was work done by African Americans for African Americans. We cannot deny the cultural significance of not just portraying African American heroes on film, but of also getting the camera out from the exclusivity of the rich white male aesthetic. To deny this type of work is to trivialize the matter of culture in our society-photography is at its best as a medium when all voices are heard-this cuts to the true strength of the medium-the accessibility of the camera and it's ability to give voice to those traditionally silenced or underrepresented. You can call me a racist, so be it, but I personally feel the good of photography reaps extraordinary benefits by including voices that cut across the chasms that divide us-be it race, sex, culture, religion, class, or anything else. Another important footnote to this is that I did not feel this was strong "African American" work (though, technically, I guess you could say it is) but it's strong photographic work that happens to portray an African American viewpoint. The distinction is subtle but I feel important enough to mention-the work at FotoFest was strong work and that plays into what I loved about seeing the diversity-the diversity of the work was not just included for diversity's sake, the work was compelling and strong independent of it's cultural perspective. To me, this was akin to "having your cake and eating it too" since it was not only a refreshing change but a solid foundation upon which we can build dynamic work for years to come in the future. It's a sign that the medium is beginning to accept those outside of the "rich white male" norm and that, in future years, masters of the genre will not just come from the pool of "rich white and male" but be drawn in based upon ability and skill.

Also at FotoFest headquarters was Richard Mosse's war-themed work. Another major theme of FotoFest this year was what I would have to call "look what I brought back from the war" as images from the front lines are slowly making their way back into the mainstream. This work was no exception-it features gritty war-based images, including a video called "Killcam" featuring night vision footage of missiles taking out targets. In general, I'm not as drawn to this type of work as the usual fine art type of work, possibly because I do not work within the scope, but the work here was technically well implemented and elegant in presentation. These are images that serve to make us pause and think and, again here, I'd have to say they were a success in that regard.

Photography and great images often ask questions-the work of Jason Lazarus is no exception, although probably a bit more literal than what you might expect. He posed the question, "Do you remember who introduced you to the band Nirvana?" and got an answer-the answer came in the form on his series at FotoFest. This work is the "snapshot aesthetic" taken to the extreme, as people sent him their answers, many in the form of Polaroids, instant snapshots, work that was never intended to be seen outside of a private viewing space, yet here collected and presented as a singular vision. Many of the images had annotations, marking another theme from FotoFest this year-there was much incorporation, and many photographers opting to incorporate words or some kind of text along with their images. While it might be easy to dismiss this type of work, as was the case of Hido's work, it's really all about the editing. Photo editing is almost like a "dirty little black art" in some ways-in this new era of digital imagery it's almost fallen by the wayside-nobody pays attention to editing anymore, right? We all just put crap out on Flickr and let the masses pick from what they want-almost like letting sharks have their blood in the water. As with Hido's work, again here, it was a refreshing change of pace to see editing brought front and center and, as a photographer, I can only hope that this trait, the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff, does not die along with the multitudes of magazines and traditional media that appears to be sinking fast in the new digital era. It's a skill that, though often ignored, needs to survive if the medium is going to continue to grow.

Tema Stauffer presented a series called "American Stills" that featured some well executed night imagery coupled with some work reminiscent of traditional style Eggleston/Christenberry images.

Rounding out the 'Whatever Was Splendid" show was the work of Michael Schmelling. In a series called "The Week of No Computer" the photographer descends into a wild, unabated journey into a dark abyss of not having a computer for a short period of time. This was one of those clever exhibits that, though you know how it's going to end, you can't help but watching (and enjoying) in the process. Not to mention, it's good to include clever work like this-it shows us that, above all else, photographers still need to know how to think outside of the box, and that you can get rewarded for that.

The FotoFest Headquarters was only one of several places we visited along our long day's journey into film-I'm going to break here and continue with my review in a future post.

Until next time...

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Back From FotoFest, First Thoughts-"Toys and Gifts" for my Eyes

ToysAndGifts, originally uploaded by carolsLittleWorld.

I'm back from FotoFest, the Houston biennial celebrating all things photographic. Still working on a full review-look for that to appear later on in the week, but, for now, it's safe to say it was a blast. I'm very tired as I had a full day of FotoFest-driving down early in the morning, stopping for a bit of shooting along the way, and then celebrating lots of exhibits and dashing between galleries and museums for the rest of the day. I left my home around 7:30 in the morning and did not return until about 10:30 in the evening so I can honestly say it was a day jam packed, full of FotoFest goodness that I've grown to expect, not to mention a few surprises thrown in to celebrate the latest that photography has to offer.

If I had to sum it up, I'd say that most of the work fell into one of several "camps" this year-there were a few recurring themes threading throughout the exhibitions. There was also a lot of work from "new faces" and voices in photography, which is fantastic to see-it's one of the things I think the medium needs to do in order to survive-incorporate the many "voices" that are out there and not implode on its own closed-mindedness. Insular solitude will kill the appeal of fine art photography more than we know it, so it was great to see a lot of fresh, new, exciting work.

Houston itself was a fun as ever to visit. It's a refreshing change from the allergy epicenter of the known universe, otherwise known as Austin, Texas, not to mention the size and complexity of the city. It's always fun to visit a city that not only has a solid museum but an entire museum district, lots of fine dining establishments, an entire "gallery row," or gallery district (not just a few scattered about the place, hoping to survive) and, oh yeah, a shopping zone and a bustling downtown to rival the best of them.

This year the work was really outstanding, ranging from pretty, to well-planned and nicely executed, to thought provoking and clever. There really was something for everybody and it was a fantastic day to just try to take in as much as I possibly could. My biggest gripe is really that I wish I had more time and could share in that energy and excitement more but I'll have to close by saying it was fun to just take in as much as I could.

More thoughts on FotoFest to come, watch this space for a full review and I hope you too had a photographic one as much as I did though, I have to admit, I sure hope your feet don't ache as much as mine after all the walking and gallery hopping I did yesterday. Ouch!

Until next time...

Friday, April 02, 2010

Out of the Allergies and into....Houston

1-AdobeHouseTopAndSky, originally uploaded by carolsLittleWorld.

I've been feeling a bit under the weather (allergies) and got behind in my posting this week, apologies for that.

In good news though, I'm headed to Houston this weekend so that I can attend FotoFest, the biennial celebration of all things photography. It promises to be a fun trip, not only some great photography viewing but also a relief from my allergies (achoo!) I've been looking at some of the artists and work that is included already, thanks to the web and the wonder of the Internets, and it promises to be fabulous. I'm excited to see some 3-D style photography, some old favorites, some cutting edge new stuff, and just to explore the themes. Gallery row down in Houston is always a favorite, as is the Houston Center for Photography, so I'll be looking to pop in there as well. Should be a fun weekend, though I can't promise any pictures. Mostly it will be a series of visual exploration and discovery, not any actual picture-taking.

I'm sure though, come Monday, I'll have something to blab about so that should be good news anyway.

How is your weekend shaping up?

Until next time...