I hear the long island railroad pass—
the film advances in the sprockets.
The story unfolds\recedes
is unclear or is in-
That is the contemporary question about photo-based work. Where forty years ago the point was to use photo and call it art; now it is about making the claim as a photograph. How can we see a field of electric green as photography? That’s the challenge. And most in Photography is at Higher Pictures rise to meet it.
I’ve been excited by Sam Falls for a while now, but hadn’t had the chance to see any of the work in person. Thursday I went to his opening at American Contemporary, which was spirited to mediocre at times, the work painterly not photographic (except one subtle gem whose placement read decorative). He’s definitely spilling over with creativity—with an exuberant process—with the romantic idea of the artist. Beautiful muse and all.
Sam is a mark maker. The trace, the stamp, the stain and fade of life and time and Sam pinning it down, narrowing it to his own experience and sensibilities. In the Higher Pictures show, Sam’s piece Crayon Roofs flirts with color and space in the light of a dream like California sun. He shows the photograph as just another drawn reality.
Letha Wilson’s Cement Ripple was another delight (I’m really into nature and/in photography). Heavy with objecthood, the cement suffocates the organic. The image travels away—flees like a ripple in a stream, the trees reflecting in its surface.
Fall Creek Lake, OR 5, Matthew Brandt’s gimmicky-gorgeous lake eroded photo is not my favorite from this series, but has a polish and presence that leaves it a standout. Brandt and Wilson both comprehend a photograph that is unsatisfactory in its faithfulness to the moment and questions what sticks/remains.
Anouk Kruitof’sUntitled (Frits de Beer/64/ favorite color: yellow) paints the photograph and memory as synesthetic—a color, a half formed picture, a feeling (here happiness?). Maybe this is what nostalgia looks like? The image is not present but formed with hints and clues and scraps, making no claim of true image (veronica).
MPA Megan Palaima Live Frame did nothing for me in the gallery, but rode the train with me to Chelsea. Steeped in a history of death—an embalming process, the word LIVE is new for me in photography, and maybe the most appropriate contemporaryism for photography and this show. The decisive moment is replaced by a filmic one. The subject not re-presented frozen, under scrutiny, but moving, progressing, a head turning and a glance. Our perspective shifts and the room and action take shape.
How can we see a field of electric green as photography?
Untitled (Fireflies inside the body of my camera, 8:37 - 8:39 PM, June 26) is a photograph. Its material confirms what it announces itself to be—though the announcement is enough. Time hasn’t stood still in Aspen May’s camera. The bug light blinks and we are caught in between 8:37 and 8:39, swimming then drowning then floating them dreaming in the time span.
The show was generally overhung. I could have done without a few of the artists who seemed overly trendy, slightly off topic or just weak examples. Iliana Ortega Draw on a Tree and Draw I I I I felt like moody uninspired Sam Falls. To be fair, I am not familiar with Iliana’s work so I can only go with first sight and gut, and these are sloppy, grasping mishaps.
Jessica Eaton, who is usually deserving of heaps of praise and enthusiasm, was represented by a lackluster 108-21. The piece was missing the ease of her best work, and perhaps needed some room to: breathe, explain it self in the gallery.
And there are others in the show. Others who get it or don’t. Others who are thinking about push and pull and surface tension. Artists who stopped taking the photographic for granted, and who are re-presenting some ongoing moment, some dimension or some object in a living form.
There was really nothing exciting about the shows openers, but thank god for the real rising/shining stars or this show would have been a missed opportunity for the state of contemporary photography, for a fresher perspective, for jetz gleich and all that jazz.
Photography’s own failures contribute to its essence, and here what is success is celebrated equally to what is first dismissed as fault. I suppose “truth in photography” will never leave the main stage, but at least now it isn’t about blowing the cover. Today’s photography is about expression, romance, kinetic energy, making one’s mark—about what it is about—
a window-mirror twice inward.