The Best Work I Saw at the Filter Photo Festival: Part 4

 

Hark!

What’s that I see up ahead?

Do you see it?

Why, I daresay it’s light up there, far away, at the end of that tunnel yonder.

I’m sure I see it.

Do you?

It was 46 degrees F yesterday, with a deep blue sky and lots of sunshine.

At the hottest point of the day, in the sun, that feels like 56F, which means there was an illusion of Spring yesterday, for the first time this year.

Spring, I say.
Spring!

At one point, I was only wearing a T-shirt, it was so warm.

A T-shirt!

Now, beyond that, (not that I need more ammunition,) my father-in-law has lived here for nearly 50 years, on this piece of land, and when we moved back to town, almost 15 years ago, he gave me a good piece of advice.

He doesn’t say much, most of the time, my father-in-law.

With the grizzled look of a cowboy, country doctor, you can get him going on certain subjects, like the health care system, or local politics.

Mostly, though, he likes to grunt.

So imagine him thusly, back in 2005.

SCENE:

Grunt.

“Hey Jon. December 15th to January 15th. Coldest time a year. Every year.”

Grunt.

END SCENE:

So, as I write this, it’s January 15th, and yesterday felt like Spring, for heaven’s sake.

How can you not feel just a bit better?

How can you not revel in silliness, as I am now?

Did you not read my column last week, in which I postulated it was rational to laugh at a terrifying world? Did that not give you permission?

What’s wrong with you?

War with Iran, you say?

Pish tosh, I say.

Impeachment?

Poppycock!

And just to prove it, to sit down in the muck of my own good humor, today, we’re going to look at the final group of photographers I met at the Filter Photo Festival last September.

It so happens that I like to mix up the column these days, between travel stories, book reviews, and portfolio review articles.

It’s a feel thing, in which I assume if I’m ready to shake it up, writing wise, you’ll be ready for something different as a reader.

These following artists, therefore, represent the last batch of The Best Work I Saw at the Filter Photo Festival in Chicago.

And normally, almost always, I’d say that the artists are in no particular order. That they’re seemingly disconnected, because I don’t really plan which photographer ends up in which piece.

Sure, that’s still the case. But when I looked through the last group of portfolios, I kept thinking the same thing.

Sad pictures.
More sad pictures.

Then, even when the pictures weren’t overtly sad, because of the other pictures, contextually, they still felt sad.

It was like the sad energy from Deep Winter was trying to creep back into my psyche, here, one day into the far-less-daunting Mid-Winter.

Do you see what I did there?

I bait-and-switched you.

Silly opening, depressing photos.

Here we go.

First up, we’ve got Bernadette Fox, who was visiting from Minnesota. She told me she was a filmmaker before she was a photographer, and that her career had taken many twists and turns.

We looked at one group of photos she shot in Morocco, of an arranged wedding, and they were really cool, for sure.

But I was perhaps a bit more interested in her next group of photos, a long-term project shot on film, and we jumped right into editing mode.

Yes to this, no to that: we separated the prints into two groups.

In the best of theses photographs, (which were edited down in the ensuing months,) the energy, the sweet vibe of loss, comes through via color and light palette, as much as anything.

The ever-so-slight color shifts that come with time.

It’s the good kind of pain, like pulling out a splinter with a sharp pair of tweezers.

 

Next, we’ve got William Davis, an artist I met at the portfolio walk. I have to admit, I was multi-tasking, as I’d just come back from dinner with a student, was doing a tour of the room with another student, while simultaneously trying to scout projects for you guys.

But I noticed William’s night-time pictures out of the corner of my eye, and made a move straight to them, knowing almost from the glowing glance that I’d like them.

(Is it OK to have developed the 6th sense, after so many festivals?)

He said the project was all about documenting light pollution, on multiple continents. From Cusco, Peru to Kalamazoo.

They’re super-cool, even if the subject is (literally) dark.

 

Next up is Kari Laine, and maybe this work was meant for today?

These tabletop constructions, and multi-image panels, feature dolls, little plastic tigers, but also dead creatures? They’re sad, bleak, macabre tableaux, but also, maybe a little funny too?

I was on the fence for a minute, but then I decided I like them.

Weird should always be good.

 

Moving along, we’ve got Sarah Malakoff, and her project was strange as well.

Sarah photographs interior spaces that are designed around cultural or historical themes. If ever there were a project to embrace kitsch, this would be the one.

We ended up having a technical conversation, Sarah and I, as her prints were super-glossy, way too glossy, and it created a reflectivity bomb that was hard to get past.

I told her that as I publish digitally, I was sure her jpegs would be good enough to show, and so they are.

Really strong portraits of people, through their personal spaces.

I have a tiki lounge, therefore I am?

Subsequently, one of my students, visiting the festival, also saw the prints and had the same problem with the gloss, so I was glad when Sarah told me she was experimenting with a different paper.

I can’t stress enough, these subtle choices make a huge difference in how our work is received, IRL.

anns 003

 

Finally, we’ve got a series of pictures by Daniel J. McInnis, and I admit I did hold these last for a reason. Because they’re not overtly sad, (my theme today,) so I wanted to set them up after all the other projects.

Daniel accompanied his wife on a business trip to Japan, and used a digital camera for the first time, after a long time working with analog materials. (We’d previously published some of his portraits of artists, after a prior Filter, and he was using a large format camera at the time.)

Maybe it’s the color palette, or the dry, formal sensibility, (in a formal country,) but I think the cool remove makes these photos a little lonely.

A little cold.

And after I wrote my first draft of this column, wouldn’t you know, but a night-time blizzard rolled into town.

Last night.

So everything is covered in powdery white.

See you next week.

Jonathan Blaustein

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