Medium Festival of Photography – Part 2

- - Portfolio Review

by Jonathan Blaustein

There’s a bar at the Lafayette Hotel called the Red Fox Room. The name alone evokes the 70’s.

I can practically hear Fred Sanford yelling at Lamont, “Hey Dummy!” I can see George shimmy on “The Jeffersons” while Weezy clucks her tongue. I imagine Carroll O’Connor’s face right now, scrunched up, as he insults some race or other as Archie Bunker.

Even better than the name, the Red Fox Room is the closest thing to a time warp I’ve ever seen. It’s dark in there, and the decorations and votive candle bowls are straight out of the 70’s as well.

The drinks aren’t even expensive, which heightens the atmosphere, but not as much as the karaoke. (It’s not what you think.)

There are no Japanese businessmen getting drunk and singing “Like a Virgin.” No college kids crooning 90’s hits you never knew anyone liked.

It’s more like a piano bar with a couple of characters ripped from a Norman Lear sitcom, warbling out of tune like Tiny Tim. I shit you not, these people, all in their 60’s and 70’s, really can’t sing, but then, it’s impossible not to listen.

They may be be out of tune, but they can carry a tune, if that makes sense. I guess we all got a taste of that in the early stages of “American Idol,” when we could mock the losers while enjoying the experience. (#2003. Before Reality TV shocked the world.)

It’s like Ricky Gervais got into a Delorean, then crossed the 4th wall, and ended up in “Three’s Company.” All he has to do is emerge from the bathroom, dressed like Mr. Roper, and the transformation is complete.

Honestly, doesn’t it feel like it’s the late 70’s all over again? Just trade gas lines and a hostage crisis for ISIS and a furious working class. Carter had no chance against Reagan selling “Let’s Make America Great Again.”

No chance at all.

And here we are in 2016. Young people are out in the streets protesting. Did they happen to vote for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, I wonder? (Do they not teach causality in colleges these days?)

I said last week that nobody knows what’s coming next, and it’s true. But that doesn’t mean we have to sit around and wait for life to happen.

Make art, sure. But maybe get involved with a non-profit that supports causes you believe in. Run for your local school board or town council. Go out in the streets, if you feel the need, to speak truth to power.

Or maybe try to have an honest, rational conversation with someone with different beliefs than you have. See if you can ask someone to explain why they think what they think, and everyone promises not to raise their voices.

Keep an open mind.

But you, this audience, are media professionals. You’re photographers and editors and artists and writers. You’re the ones who will document and comment on what’s to come.

That’s why I was in San Diego in the first place: to look at work by photographers who use their artistic expression to better understand the world. So here we have the final installment of the best projects I saw at the Medium Festival in San Diego. Many thanks to the artists for allowing us to share their work with you.

Among the rights we need to protect, vigilantly, are those of the LGBT community. I met Jason Pearson in San Diego, and then his creative partner and twin brother Jesse in Santa Fe a week later. These guys could not be more different, but they click when they’re making art.

I thought the pictures were fantastic, absurd and silly takes on male sexuality. They’re performative and well-constructed. Amazing stuff. But as Jason turned up with a portfolio of highly mis-matched prints, I did encourage him to tighten up the ship going forward. You never want to give someone an additional reason to say “No.”

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My beautiful picture

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Carol Erb was also headed to Review Santa Fe with some work I found innovative and smart. She photographs animals in zoos, then shoots nature scenes, and also made a series of images in an abandoned mental hospital. (West Virginia, maybe?)

She photoshops them all together, seamlessly, as she thought people just tune out at seeing endangered animals in their natural environment. These pictures radiate a kind of sadness that I think will affect people in a more powerful way. I found a couple of prints that lacked proper conceptual continuity, and Carol fixed them right up for RSF.

All rights reserved - No derivative works can be used, published, distributed or sold without written permission of the owner.

All rights reserved – No derivative works can be used, published, distributed or sold without written permission of the owner.

All rights reserved - No derivative works can be used, published, distributed or sold without written permission of the owner.

All rights reserved - No derivative works can be used, published, distributed or sold without written permission of the owner.

All rights reserved - No derivative works can be used, published, distributed or sold without written permission of the owner.

All rights reserved - No derivative works can be used, published, distributed or sold without written permission of the owner.

All rights reserved - No derivative works can be used, published, distributed or sold without written permission of the owner.

All rights reserved - No derivative works can be used, published, distributed or sold without written permission of the owner.

All rights reserved - No derivative works can be used, published, distributed or sold without written permission of the owner.

All rights reserved - No derivative works can be used, published, distributed or sold without written permission of the owner.

All rights reserved - No derivative works can be used, published, distributed or sold without written permission of the owner.

I met Ellen Cantor at Medium in the past, but had not done a review before. She was an interior designer for a long time, and that skill-set showed, as her multiple projects all looked good. The one we’re publishing here is of her mother’s ephemera, after she passed away. I’ve seen projects like this before, of course, but thought these pictures were visceral, and melancholy, in a way that I respect.

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cantor_ellen_its-hard-to-remember-them

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cantor_ellen_names-and-addresses-i-no-longer-need

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cantor_ellen_they-used-to-send-telegrams

I had a hard talk with James Porschen, a working photographer who had two distinct series. The first was a group of color, aerial photos that could not have looked more like Ed Burtynsky and David Maisel’s work if he had set out to do so. I told him that, and think deep down he knew it was true.

The other project, in black and white, also attempted to grapple with the landscape, using some aerials, but I thought these were groovy, and far more original. We talked about how hard it is to walk in the shadow of well-known visions, and how we need to instead go in the direction of what makes us unique.

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Printed by the Fine Art Department at The Icon; archival inkjet print using Epson 9800 with K3 inks, on Hahnëmuhle German Etching 310 gsm paper, RGB profile.

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Victor Ramos comes from a computer programming background, and was recently diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. I liked both of his projects very much, including one that metaphorically grapples with his condition, but that was not-yet-completed.

His other project, “In The Future,” incorporated funny, irreverent, and sometimes troubling text with images to forecast what lies ahead. (While also commenting on the now.) The pictures were a bit uneven, but I thought most of it was really great.

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Emily Matyas visited Romania, her ancestors’ homeland, and then went into character as if she were a local peasant. (It’s a strange conceit, to be sure.) I like it a bit more each time I see it, and the best pictures offer an ambiguity to go with the strong visuals. It’s odd, but I kind of dig it.

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matyas_romania_adjusting-a-haystack

matyas_romania_autumn-burning

matyas_romania_climbing-the-barn-ladder

matyas_romania_cooking-with-ileana

matyas_romania_gathering-produce

matyas_romania_getting-water-with-grandma

matyas_romania_hanging-out-husbands-clothes

matyas_romania_hanging-out-rugs

matyas_romania_pot-tree

matyas_romania_raking-in-the-apple-orchard

matyas_romania_scolding-andre

matyas_romania_splitting-wood-with-a-toy-axe

matyas_romania_talking-with-matusha

matyas_romania_throwing-seed

matyas_romania_walking-home-from-the-fields

matyas_romania_walking-into-the-picture

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Last, but not least, we have Cathy Immordino. She does improv, and has been on Nickelodeon TV shows before, but doesn’t currently mix those talents with her photography. I encouraged her to consider melding her skills.

We saw composite pictures about her child’s birth, as she had a “million dollar baby,” given the associated costs due to complications. I definitely have a bias against heavy composting, which I admitted to her, but the best images have an undeniable tension that I liked a lot.

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Well, that’s it for the Fall Portfolio Review Circuit Roundup. We’ll go back to book reviews for the rest of the year. Thanks for sticking it out to the end…

Jonathan Blaustein

There Are 2 Comments On This Article.

  1. Harry Starkman

    Great works. Am biased toward my good friend Victor’s work. One minor complaint please go to the Lafayette Hotel and explain to them that it should be Redd Foxx.

  2. No need to wait for the future. Today many people are not as intelligent as their toaster. Reading on-llne fora is a good illustration.