Category "Photography Festival"

This Week in Photography: Visiting Houston in #2020

 

Part 1. The Intro

 

I went to Houston six months ago.

Went is the past tense of the verb to go.

In Spanish, it’s ir, and in French, it’s aller.

So I would say Je suis allΓ© a Houston.

Do you remember what it means to go places? To leave your home, or your town, and transport your body somewhere else, to a different city, or state, to a different culture, with a different landscape?

Honestly, I kind of forget what the sensation feels like.

Six months ago, I did something that was, at that point, second nature to me.

As you know, if you’ve been reading regularly, I hopped around America on airplanes from 2013 to early #2020, and wrote about many of my adventures for you.

By my trip to Houston, I was so burned out on travel.

I’d been to Europe two weeks before the Texas trip, and in 2019, I went to California, New York twice, Portland, England, Chicago, and Colorado.

Now, I can barely remember what it’s like to go anywhere, and I would kill for the chance to travel, while the last time I got out of New Mexico, I was barely able to scrape my carcass onto the plane.

I suppose I can thank this truly batshit year, #2020, for reminding me what’s important in life.

 

Part 2. Getting there

 

I was headed to Houston to attend the SPE National Conference, where I’d be debuting my first book, “Extinction Party,” at a Saturday afternoon book signing.

I have some good friends in Houston, and have written about the city here several times, so while normally I would have been fired up to go, my general exhaustion dampened my spirit.

As such, I booked only a two-night-trip, and then packed my itinerary as full as I could, to suck every bit of juice from the experience.

Thank goodness I did, because those vivid memories have been my sustenance, travel-wise, for the last half-year. (Which has of course felt like five years.)

The world has changed so drastically that I got a late start writing today, because I was giving my daughter a pep talk about improving her attitude towards Zoom school and remote learning.

Back in March, on the heels of my 46th birthday, I had never heard of Zoom, and remote learning was for people studying in a different part of the world than their teachers.

Not a different part of town.

But here we are, and I’m sitting in my customary writing spot, having just chugged a cup of my super-caffeinated Jot coffee, and I’m closing my eyes to see the places I visited.

 

Part 3. Being there

 

In retrospect, a lot of the travel writing I did in 2019 pointed out the cracks in the American dam.

There were hints, which I picked up on piecemeal, of an impending crash.

I chronicled NYC becoming so expensive that it was now meant mostly for tourists, with rents no one could afford. And a development project in my hometown in New Jersey that had sat vacant for nearly 15 years, before getting a multi-million dollar infusion.

I chronicled Portland street-gang fighters, and how they mocked Antifa while admitting there were a host of white mini-gangs that liked to stir shit up.

I discussed the decline and fall of San Francisco, where the homeless issue was so bad that the city was in effect a Third World society.

The signs were there.

And when I arrived in Houston, got my rental car, and headed to my friend Ed’s apartment, in East Houston, I soon saw hints of expansion and gentrification that only happen at the very, very end of a long economic boom.

While Ed napped, I got hungry, and walked a few blocks East to a dingy strip mall where he’d once taken me to a great Thai restaurant. (Houston is a driving city, but I needed to stretch my legs.)

At the time we ate in the Thai joint, (2013) I remember Ed telling me his part of town was mostly Latino, and thoroughly un-gentrified.

There was not much around, he said.

But while the Thai restaurant was closed on me, (in between lunch and dinner service,) right next door, I found a hipster cafe, Bohemeos, with great prices for tasty, heaping plates of food, (chicken nachos,) palm trees in the outdoor courtyard, and cool, inexpensive paintings on the walls.

 

Right next door, a street-art gallery, Insomnia, had popped up, with graphic T-shirts for sale, manga and graffiti-style art on the walls, and a young hipster behind the counter who paid me no mind. (Very on brand.)

 

There was a record store next to that, so I was surprised, to say the least.

As we drove around town that weekend, Ed showed me shiny new condos build along the train tracks, (Houston famously has no zoning laws,) which he said went for $450,000, and another new condo building that was literally abutting a highway overpass.

For the uninitiated, Texas real estate is notoriously cheap compared to wealthy mega-states like California and New York, so half a million bucks to live on the train tracks is the equivalent of twice that in a blue state.

I took note, and thought things were out of whack, but even then, in early March, with Covid-19 on cusp of destroying reality as we know it, I had no idea what was coming.

 

Part 4. Get on with it already

 

Honestly, no one did.

Not really.

Because my 48 hours in the city were packed with gallery openings, museum visits, parties, dinners, FotoFest’s grand opening, and lots of hugging my friends.

A few people wanted to elbow bump, but other than that, (and the fact that people were talking about the virus,) life was essentially normal.

What would you give to go back in time and feel normal again?

After I ate my lovely nachos that Friday afternoon, Ed and I went to the Houston Center for Photography, for the opening of their fashion photography show.

It was packed, and my publisher arrived and handed me my first copy of my book, which I promptly handed off to a curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, for their library collection.

I was jazzed up, and talked to friends for an hour, barely getting to see the art on the walls, but I did return on Sunday, and have some photos for you.

The truth is, I saw two fashion photo exhibitions in Amsterdam two weeks prior, and both were edgy and progressive in their installation, while the HCP show had some new work, and a slew of re-printed reproductions hung in one horizontal line, so I was disappointed for sure.

 

From there, we went to Foto Relevance, a gallery run by HCP supporter Geoffrey Koslov, and it was in a very chic, Chelsea-like concrete structure that screamed of money and a big rent.

The gallery was gorgeous, and the Letitia Huckaby show was nice, but I couldn’t help wondering if this too was a sign of an economic imbalance, as the gentrified-high-rent-Museum-district was so much shinier than I remembered it.

(Houston, or H-town, is known for its keeping-it-real, diverse charm, rather than glitz.)

From there, it was on to a big, art-dinner party, in a lovely Italian restaurant, with some fellow artists, curators and collectors, and I had such great time.

I sat across from Osamu James Nakagawa, and diagonal from Brad Temkin, two super-talented artists who have been embraced by Houston, and the party was in honor of Brad’s show at the Houston Museum for Natural Science.

Needless to say, such gatherings are currently verboten. (And often illegal.)

My broccoli cannelloni was delicious.

 

Part 5. Finishing strong

 

On Saturday, I had brunch with curator friends at Barnaby’s Cafe, a local chain that all the art folks like, and the plate of food they gave me, for a reasonable fee, was 2x as big as I could eat. (Leftovers for sure.)

While perhaps not everything is bigger in Texas, certainly the food portions are.

From there, we went to the MFAH so I could sign a copy of my book, and get a tour of “Through an African Lens: Sub-Saharan Photography from the Museum’s Collection,” which featured some killer work, including a massive Zanele Muholi wheatpaste.

 

MFA,H was among the first museums to re-open in the US, earlier this summer, and they have some major health protocols in place, so maybe it’s time to go visit?

From there, I sped across the city to SPE at the Galleria, the massive mall complex in the Western part of Houston, where thousands of maskless people walked around, shopping obliviously, not knowing that the end of the world would soon be upon us.

My book signing went well, as we sold some copies, and I was always engaged talking to friends, as the photo community is so supportive.

Rather than resting afterwards, I’d set up in impromptu dinner party at Ed’s place, with curator, artist, festival and educator friends, but before that, even, I snuck in a quick trip to Cherryhurst House, a private, alternative exhibition space that was almost like a mini-Pier 24. (The San Francisco non-profit I’ve written about a few times.)

I’d met Barbara Levine, the Cherryhurst House curator, at the HCP opening the night before, and she invited me to an open house to see the space, of which I had not previously heard.

(A second open house event, scheduled for a few days later, was eventually cancelled, as we were all standing on the precipice of the cliff, we just didn’t know it yet.)

There was an exhibition of vintage album covers, presented as art, and the entire place, with its beautiful sofas and modern design, was like an art installation in which you could make yourself comfortable.


There was a photo booth, and Barbara and I crammed in together, new friends for only a day, to take our portraits.

(I haven’t been that close to someone other than my family since.)

There is a second installation on the property, an old house that was carved up into bits by a visiting artist duo, Havel Ruck Projects, in the style of Gordon Matta-Clark, and I found it fascinating and oddly beautiful.

Then I said goodbye to Barbara, and sped back to Ed’s place, late for my own party, but secure in the knowledge that others would turn up even later than I did. (As was the case.)

After a simple and tasty dinner, with friends from Chicago, Atlanta and Albuquerque, I left Ed behind and went to the FotoFest opening party, for their show “African Cosmologies: Photography, Time and the Other,” which was busy, but not packed with people crushed together. (Thankfully.)

To give FotoFest credit, I’ve never been to an art show that had so many African-American people in attendance, and it felt wonderful to be around legitimate diversity.

 

 

But I was very tired by then, and after doing a couple of laps around the massive space, I went home to bed, zipping through the empty highways, amazed that such roads could ever be quiet.

I woke up hungry, and Ed and I went to brunch with our friend Joan at Bistro Menil, after taking a turn around the neighboring park, but before we toured the Menil museum collections.

I had one of the best burgers of my life there, (Spanish-style,) and noticed friends walking across the park, though the window, sent a text, and watched them read it and smile.

Afterwards, we went to the new drawing center, and sat quietly in one of the most Buddhist, calming, invigorating shows I’ve ever encountered, by Brice Marden.

The guards insisted I not take pictures for you, and for that I apologize, as it was the last art show I saw in #2020, and possibly the best.

Will I ever see an art show again?

Will I ever get on an airplane?

I hope so.

But this deep into #2020, I really don’t know.

This Week in Photography: The ICP Online Portfolio Review

 

The sports world went on strike yesterday.

 

(As usual, I’m writing on Thursday.)

It all began when the Milwaukee Bucks, the putative best team in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, decided at the last minute not to take the court for their impending playoff game against the Orlando Magic.

For those of you unaware, the NBA resumed earlier this summer in a “bubble” at the Disney/ESPN campus outside Orlando, Florida.

The professional basketball league created an artificial community, cut off from the rest of America, with very stringent rules and testing procedures, to allow the players and associated staff to stay safe from Covid-19.

As there are no fans allowed in the games, the entire affair has been arranged for broadcast television, (which is now also done via streaming, for some,) so that the global audience, including millions of Americans, could have “entertainment” to soothe them from this psychotic year.

I’m a fan, and the father of a LeBron James super-fan, so I was glad to see the league resume, and have watched many games.

As the NBA is made up of predominantly Black players, and has a reputation for being the most progressive of the American sports leagues, there were special concessions made for this time of protest and strife.

In particular, the courts are painted with Black Lives Matter, and most of the players wear a slogan on the back of their jerseys, where their names traditionally go, which supports the movement as well.

(For the record, the players were offered a list of pre-approved slogans; they could not just choose whatever they wanted.)

Some players, including union leaders Kyrie Irving and Avery Bradley, were concerned that by entertaining America, they were just providing a distraction from the need for social justice, which was more important than a game.

While a few players opted out of the bubble, almost everyone didn’t, but then yesterday, on the heels of the shooting of Jacob Blake, and the subsequent rioting in Kenosha, WI, including the murder of protesters by an unhinged 17 year old with a long-gun, the players went on strike.

And athletes from Major League Baseball, the WNBA, and Major League Soccer followed suit.

I was not surprised, as the day before, I’d read quotes from George Hill, a Bucks player, that expressed anger and exasperation at being in an artificial environment, playing ball instead of being out in the world, making a difference.

As of last night, the NBA players took an impromptu vote as to whether to resume the playoffs, and the LA Lakers and LA Clippers voted to cancel the season, though in an official vote today, the players decided to continue with the playoffs.

On Twitter, (where I learned of the resumption 2 minutes after it was announced,) I saw a tweet from a fellow blogger suggesting that marketers, podcasters, and others in different professions should go on strike as well.

I won’t say I considered it, because I didn’t, as part of having a weekly column for 9 years is that I’m trained to show up for you.

I’ve never missed a deadline, and don’t intend to start now.

However, while I considered writing a super-short column, (a mini-strike, if you will,) that obviously isn’t happening.

(500+ words so far.)

But, (you knew there would be a but, right,) instead, I’m coming at you with a promised column that does the next best thing: it provides direct access to a slate of diverse artists I met on Zoom earlier this summer.

I was reviewing portfolios for the school at the International Center of Photography in New York in early July, and as I wrote shortly thereafter, I saw some terrific and timely photography and art, all of which was made by women and men of color.

You know I’ve written many times, including recently, that I believe all voices in the photography world should be respected. Hell, a few years ago, (in this column) I rebranded myself as a Jewish-American, because I didn’t want to be known as a White Guy. (Ahead of my time, for sure.)

While I advocate against cutting out any particular group, (including my own,) I’ve also spent years championing work by female artists, and artists from a diversity of cultures and races whenever possible, because it’s the right thing to do, and it also affords you, the viewers, the chance to see things you would not otherwise.

A classic win-win.

So today, we’re going with “The Best Work I Saw at the ICP Online Portfolio Review,” and I’m sure you’ll dig these pictures.

Not surprisingly, most of the students I encountered were impacted by the pandemic in some way, including those who were in a 1 year program, but didn’t get to spend much time in NYC, or on campus.

As resourceful artists often do, they came up with elegant solutions, and I’ll share them with you now.

Normally, I say the artists are in no particular order, but today I’ll show them to you in the order I encountered the photographers that day.

We’ll begin with Danny Peralta, and I actually mentioned him in a previous column, as he works with diverse media, and his photographs were not what impressed me the most.

Danny is an educator and community developer from the South Bronx, in addition to being a talented artist, and he showed me a set of watercolor drawings that drew attention to the health effects of environmental pollution.

For whatever reason, eco art is often associated with white hippies, so I hadn’t seen many projects that directly tackled the issue from within a community of color.

Danny drew/painted a series about inhalers, as so many people in his community use them, due to asthma and other breathing issues due to pollution.

(I can’t breathe.)

It’s fantastic stuff, IMO.

 

 

Next, I met Zoe Golden-Johnson, who just finished her junior year of undergrad at ICP, having been in a joint-student program from St John’s University in Queens.

Due to the pandemic, Zoe was quarantining in Upstate New York, in a town near Poughkeepsie named Wappingers Falls.

Like many photographers during this strange time, (including me,) Zoe went on walks around her neighborhood, as her family had recently moved to a different part of the village, and it was all new to her. (And filled with creepy, late 19th C and early 20th C East Coast architecture.)

While at first, I told Zoe that this was not the most innovative of methodologies, a few photographs in, she showed me an image of a shadow puppet on the side of a green, siding-clad house.

It stopped me in my tracks, as it was created, rather than found, and it seemed like it had so much potential as a way of making photos.

“You should do a whole series of these,” I recommended.

Zoe smiled, and then a few images later, showed me an exquisite self-portrait, also in shadow, done in the same location.

I found it to be an exceptional picture, and hoped she’d continue working in that way. I also suggested it was brave, and a little risky, to use a stranger’s house, unless maybe it was her own home?

She confirmed it was, (no creeping necessary,) and I hope she continues working in that vein.

 

Next, I spoke to Madeline Mancini, who was in the exact same situation as Zoe, only 2500 miles away.

Madeline also finished her junior year at ICP, on loan from St. John’s, but was pandemic quarantining at her parents’ home in Las Vegas, Nevada.

(Ever the dorky New Mexican, when she said Las Vegas, I asked, “Nevada or New Mexico?”)

Madeline is into horror and suspense, weird and strange movies, and also looked at her neighborhood, and her immediate environment, trying to find the surreal and spectral in the mundane.

I’m always a sucker for normal-is-odd, so I liked this work immediately.

 

After a short break, I spoke with Violette Franchi, who spent a year at ICP after studying architecture in her native France.

Violette used her time in NYC wisely, as she learned about, and then devoted her time to exploring and photographing in Starrett City, the largest housing project in East New York, Brooklyn, which is one of the most poverty-stricken parts of the city.

While I often find myself suggesting to students that they try to mix up varied approaches to making their photographs, Violette needed no such encouragement.

She had made friends and contacts in the local community on her own, without any fixers, and used big cameras for the landscapes and establishment shots, smaller cameras when appropriate, and also mixed in video and photographs of found imagery and tv screens.

(Including images of junk mail and advertisements she found on the ground of the mail room, and shots of cheesy TV commercials pimping the development back in the 70’s.)

I found it to be a sophisticated and nuanced look at a place in time, (including the future, as she also has images of renderings of impending development,) and was seriously impressed with her drive, work ethic and talent.

A2 tower’s entrance, Starrett City, East New York, 2019. Starrett City is located on the southeast corner of the studied intersection.

View from the balcony of Jerry’s apartment, Starrett City, East New York, 2020. Starrett City is the US nation’s largest federally-subsidized apartment complex. Starrett City contains 5,881 apartment units in 46 buildings, ranging from eleven to twenty stories high.

Laron and Bernard filling up their tank at Conoco gas station, East New York, 2020. Laron and Bernard are regular customers and live in East New York.

17th floor entrance doors, Starrett City, East New York, 2020. Starrett City towers are all designed identically, with no designated communal spaces above the ground floor.

Archive from a TV Commercial advertising for Starrett City after its construction, 1979. Screenshot with added subtitles, 2020.

Syed, clerk at Conoco gas station, East New York, 2020. He lives with his wife and daughter in a shared house with his older brother Ali. Syed’s family is in the basement and Ali’s is upstairs. Ali and Syed emigrated from Pakistan with their parents in 1996.

Mail left out in one of the towers’ lobby, Starrett City, East New York, 2019. All the 46 towers have the same design and elements for their ground floors: two elevators in the lobby space, postboxes, a shared laundry room, the janitor’s premises and staircases.

Mackenzie, working at Ultimate Auto Parts, Flatlands Avenue, East New York, 2020. Mackenzie has worked at the used auto parts store for a year and a half. The store stands right by Oasis Motel, and is one of the eight auto-themed businesses within a thousand feet.

Teenage girl, standing in Starrett City’s shared outdoor spaces, East New York, 2020.

Ultimate Auto Parts store, Flatlands Avenue, East New York, 2020. The store stands right by Oasis Motel, on the northwest corner of the studied intersection, and is one of the eight auto-themed businesses within a thousand feet.

Tamara on her afternoon stroll, East New York, 2020. Tamara resides in a nursing home in front of Starrett City. East New York is a neighborhood with a large Russian elderly community. There are fifteen assisted living facilities and nursing home at a mile around Starrett City.

Margie, standing in her building’s lobby, Starrett City, East New York, 2020. Margie is 90 years old, she was born in Puerto Rico and has lived in Starrett City for 15 years. Everybody calls her grandma in her tower.

Our Daily Bread, a given out, collected and scanned cover of a Bible, East New York, 2020.

Found, collected and scanned piece from a commercial brochure, Starrett City, East New York, 2020.

Ernesto, outside his building, Starrett City, East New York, 2020. Ernesto moved in Starrett City in 1996 and said he loved it back then. « It used to be the best place in the universe in the 90’s. Now I’m trying to get out of here. I’m two years sober.Β Β»

An older resident walks back home with groceries, Starrett City, East New York, 2020.

Jarrell’s daughter in a shopping cart at the intersection, East New York, 2020. She wanted a ride to the shop. Jarrell works as an educator and him and his family live in Starrett City.

Shortie, working at Ultimate Auto Parts, Flatlands Avenue, East New York, 2020. The store stands right by Oasis Motel, and is one of the eight auto-themed businesses within a thousand feet.

Shelter residents looking out the window at Oasis Motel, Flatlands Avenue, East New York, 2019. Oasis Motel is a men’s shelter located on the northwest corner of the studied crossroads. The shelter is facing Starrett City as well as the parking lot of NYC’s biggest Church, the Christian Cultural Center, soon to become a massive residential complex.

Parking lot of NYC’s biggest Church, the Christian Cultural Center, is located, East New York, 2020. The Church’s empty property is only full on Sundays. This lot will soon become the β€œUrban Village”, a massive residential complex that will face the current Oasis Motel shelter on the other side of the street.

Jerry, on his balcony on the 17th and last floor of Starrett City, East New York, 2020. Jerry was the first resident to move in his tower of Starrett City, 45 years ago. Jerry used to work as Starrett City’s postman and is now retired. He is divorced and his kids have left the apartment. Every day, he plays the numbers, resolves puzzles and volunteers at the same post office he has worked at for 20 years.

3D rendering of the future “Urban Village”, soon to be built on the Christian Cultural Center’s site, New York City’s biggest Church, East New York, 2020. The Church is located on the southwest corner of the studied intersection. This promised β€œinnovative urban living” is promoting affordable housing when the units will be unaffordable to almost 4 out of 10 East New York families. The project comes from a partnership between a real-estate developer and the Church’s pastor Rev. AR Bernard. Image made by Β© Practice for Architecture and Urbanism (PAU).

Archive from a TV Commercial advertising for Starrett City after its construction, 1979. Screenshot with added subtitles, 2020.

After Violette, coincidentally, came another young Frenchwoman who made work in Brooklyn: Tina Levy.

Tina, like Madeline, likes the surreal and bizarre, but her work shared far more in common with the Roger Ballen, black and white, aesthetic.

Tina had studied Philosophy at the Sorbonne, and was thrilled when I suggested she consider drawing and painting as well, (like Danny,) as that was where she felt her work was headed.

But I loved these photographs, which were made in her neighborhood and local environment in Brooklyn. (Greenpoint, where I lived back in the day.)

 

After Tina, I met Beverly Logan, who had completed an MFA at ICP, and had a very different process from everyone else.

Beverly had traveled extensively, and taken a lot of pictures in her life, and told me she had an archive of 250,000 images, which she searched for fragments to build collages.

Even in a digital age, these were laborious, as she made prints of the fragments, and then assembled real life pieces, rather than using Photoshop.

They screamed of Americana, and surrealism, but had a snappy, optimistic palette that seemed to contrast with these dark times.

I mentioned Patrick Nagatani’s “Nuclear Enchantment” to her, as her smart work made me think of my late teacher, and in general was super-impressed by what I saw.

 

Finally, (yes, finally) I met with Kechen Song, who was a Chinese national living in New York for his program. (Soon to move to Syracuse U to attend the prestigious MFA program there.)

He had barely left his apartment for months, during the pandemic, and told me he’d been wearing a mask for most of year, as he knew from China’s experience the chaos and death that was headed New York’s way.

Kechen had a few projects, including this mind-numbing and amazing video of taking and recording his temperature, over and over again, until his notebook went black.

The project I want to share, though, featured images he made by hacking, or mis-using his flatbed scanner, with only objects he found on his desk.

So many of these artists had their process, (and education) impacted by the pandemic, and used those constraints to fire up their creativity. This project is the perfect example of that, as everything came off of one desk, including the art-making equipment.

 

So I’ll leave you there, along with the reminder that if the NBA players can use their platforms to send a message, and I can show up to enlighten you on the regular, and all these artists can mine the pandemic for creative fuel, I hope you can do your best work, and make a difference too.

See you next week!

The Best Work I Saw at the Filter Photo Festival: Part 3

 

Part 1: The Intro

Hi there, everybody.

How are you?

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, and Christmas will be here before you know it, most people are ready to wind down a bit.

To slow the pace, bitch about the weather, fantasize about being on a warm beach somewhere, and then begin to plan for 2020.

(You know it’s true.)

Honestly, my ass would have been in coasting mode weeks ago, if it hadn’t been for the (now successful) Kickstarter campaign for my upcoming book, “Extinction Party.”

As for the cold and the gray, I spent the better part of Saturday plotting and planning to drive to a clean, beautiful beach, where we could swim in the warm water, and feel free.

I searched and searched, finally settling on South Padre Island in Texas, on the Gulf Coast next to Mexico, before realizing that a 16 hour drive each way would wash off any bliss imparted by the serene salt water.

(Staycation #2019 instead.)

As for the planning, I think right around now, people begin to look at the calendar in earnest, visualizing the trips they might take in 2020.

One year ends, the next begins.

I know it’s a big lede, but I was building to a point, which is that people often ask me which photo festival they should attend, or which ones are the best?

It happened twice in the past week, and once was a public query on Twitter.

Thomas Patterson, a photographer and writer for PDN, asked me and a few others the following:

 

As I’m currently in the middle of my series on the Best Work I saw at the Filter Photo Festival, and have said many times that Filter does it right, it seemed like a great way to answer the questions for you ahead of time, in case it helps you book out next year.

So let’s get to it.

 

Part 2: Which Festival is Best?

I’m going to cut to the chase, and let you down, simultaneously.

There is no “best” festival, though of course I might have a personal favorite.

There are now so many options, in almost every major city, that I think a photographer can base his or her decision on a number of factors. And I will say this, there are several annual festivals that I think are at the top of the heap, and I name-check them all the time.

Filter Photo Festival in Chicago.
PhotoNOLA in New Orleans.
Medium Photo Festival in San Diego.

All three have different strengths, but few weaknesses, and all share some common strategies, with respect to wraparound programming.

I’ve already written that I know the staff at each place, and think they’re amazing people. The three cities are beautiful tourist destinations, with superb leisure activities and incredible food.

Each of the three features lectures, exhibitions, parties, keynote speakers, partnerships with important local museums, and are run by artist-driven non-profit organizations.

They’ve had stability in leadership and staff, and take place in excellent venues, where they remain each year.

(Cohesion and teamwork are important.)

Basically, I’d vouch for all three festivals, strongly. They’re different of course, as Filter has the massive-city-blue-collar vibe, New Orleans is a party-forward city, and Medium is a bit smaller and homier, set in a poolside, SoCal hipster hotel.

I’ve been on gallery tours in both Chicago and New Orleans before, and Medium now does one in Tijuana.

You will get your money’s worth in each place, and that money is going to support a non-profit that gives back massively to its local community.

As to the biennial festivals, I had a good experience at Photolucida in Portland, which I chronicled here this year, and it too has great relationships with its local city. (And amazing food, music, and legal reefer.)

FotoFest, which is coming up this March, is the oldest American portfolio review festival, and I made two of my best friends in the world while attending. (In 2012 and 2016.)

Ironically, though, I think it’s the least social of the festivals I’ve gone to. I love Houston, but the downtown business district, (where FotoFest is held,) is not super-lively in the evenings, and while it’s a great city in which to have a car, parking downtown is expensive.

FotoFest a place to get business done, as you’ll have approximately 20 portfolio reviews, and I know colleagues who go for two sessions each year, as they always make enough money to justify it.

So there’s my two cents.

And just to reiterate, in my copious experience, it’s the partying, the social experiences, the eating and drinking, that really brings people together.

(It’s not an accident, as human beings like working with people they know and like.)

If you get out there, invest the time in broadening your network and making new friends, it will have a positive impact on your life in so many ways.

And with that, we’ll move on to the final piece of today’s puzzle: more of the Best Work I Saw at the Filter Photo Festival in September.

As usual, the artists are in no particular order.

 

Part 3: The Photographers

Sometimes, a project just jumps off the table at you, often due to technical prowess. And as a teacher and a critic, I typically recommend artists make work about what they’re expert in, or something they’re so curious about that the art practice itself makes them an expert.

With Christoper Barrett, it was an interesting confluence, as he works as a professional architectural photographer in Chicago, and chose an art project that allowed him to put those skills to use.

He began taking walks around his neighborhood, photographing the mishmash of local architectural styles. At the same time, he created a tense, boxed in, claustrophobic view of emo Americana.

The series feels like a snapshot of an empire in Decline, devoid of color.Β And the formal constructions, super sharpness, and solid tonal range make for a powerful group of pictures.


Speaking of expertise, Colleen Woolpert must have found it strange to tell me her story, given the massive coincidence we shared. She described a rare eye condition called strabismus, in which vision and depth perception can be severely impaired.

Colleen is a twin, and her sister has it, but she does not. (The coincidence is my son has strabismus, and after nearly 10 years of treatment, one surgery, and some strong eye-glasses, he sees really well.)

Apparently, Colleen wanted to help her sister, (as the impairment was believed to be permanent if not fixed in childhood, ) so she built a stereoscopic device to help her sister improve her vision, and it worked!

Then she patented it, and now it’s in pubic use.

You can’t make this shit up!

Her art project uses the stereoscope to depict images of Colleen and her sister, where they blend together into one person. Radical stuff!

Next, we have Mitch Eckert, who’s a professor at Louisville University in Kentucky. I always ask photographers about their background, and then dispense advice accordingly.

Mitch told me he was trained up, and that he thought his work was ready to go, so I was prepared to be a tough critic. Thankfully, I found his work to be cool and a bit exciting.

Normally, I think zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens and museums are too easy as subjects, but Mitch brought a hyper-real compression of space to the game.

His plants, trapped behind glass, sweating, breathing, pushing up against the see-through constraints, feel very compelling as environmental pieces in #2019.

Ruth Adams and I had an editing session, as we discussed how to create solid through-lines, or connection points, via subject matter and style.

Ruth had been shooting in Berlin, and what she first described as being about Jewish cemeteries quickly expanded to include other religions as well, and other cities.

I zeroed in on the images that felt most connected to each other, and encouraged her to keep things tight and make more work. As with Christoper’s project, the tonal range here really is impressive.

Anastasia Davis, in from Pittsburgh, let me know she had studied with good people, and was connected in her community. She also said that she used her work to cope with, or process, her history of panic disorder and depression, which is of course one of art’s highest and best uses.

Anastasia showed me two groups of photographs, both of which were meant to conjure a different emotional experience. And as the images are made separately, and then edited together, it does share much with poetry, vibe-wise.

Really lovely stuff.

 

Last, but not least, we have James Kuan, whose work caught my eye at the portfolio walk at Filter.

I always make sure to do a quick visit at a festival’s portfolio walk, (always,) because I ALWAYS find cool stuff to show you from people I would not otherwise meet.

In this case, I learned that James is a surgeon based in Seattle, and has studied at PCNW.

This project, about identity, is all about cutting and pasting. Slicing and replacing.

Cool stuff, and I’m sure you’ll like it.

See you next week!

The Best Work I Saw at the Filter Photo Festival: Part 2

 

I never have a hard time writing.

It’s true.

It must be muscle memory, as words normally flow from my brain to my fingers, like wet snow dropping from a gray sky.

Then, we get to this time of year, when the days are shorter, the light is less intense, and the column gets more difficult.

Especially as I’m spent, having just finished a run of 8 big trips in 8 months.

It ended a few days ago, when we returned from a family Bar Mitzvah in Boulder. (Partying with the same extended family for the third time this year.)

It was both exhausting and perfunctory, which is an odd combination.

(And if my cousins are reading this, apologies, you threw a great shindig.)

Rather, the joy and surprise of such family reunion-type-events lie in the typical time-gap between them: people change, and have new stories to tell.

By the third get-together in a year, it’s only natural that people have run through their prime “life-story” material, and the conversations get a bit stale.

What I found, though, is that it’s not always the big, dramatic moments that burn their way into memory. Or that are even the most pleasurable, necessarily.

I told my kids about, and then actively noticed, the random, seemingly-meaningless-in-between moments that can come to feel important in a family bonding narrative.

Like the time we were sprinting though an underground parking garage, the four of us, desperate not to be late for (always boring) Temple, and I heard our shoes clicking on the concrete as I looked at my daughter and smiled.

Or the four of us huddled over a few plates of Thai noodles, sucking up the city-food-goodness, while the mountains and shopping malls of Boulder looked on beyond the fifth floor, hotel windows.

It’s not always the glamour, I’ve found, that pulls us out of our respective reveries, and helps us revel in the moment.

Right now, I’m actually thinking of a perfect moment in Chicago, back in September, when I visited for the Filter Photo Festival.

If you’ve been reading this year, you know I used food, architecture, and travel as methods of inspiration, rather than just photographs, paintings and sculptures.

As an artist, I’ve done more writing, drawing and installation work lately than I have photography.

(Each step in our creative journey is different, and things change over time.)

But rather than repeating my old patterns in Chicago, (as I discussed last week,) I went to Pilsen to have a Kung Fu lesson with a great teacher in town.

It took two subway trains and a bus to get there, and wouldn’t you know, but that’s where one of those little moments managed to find me.

On the bus heading North.

I was late, (again,) but this time, I’d texted Sifu to give him a heads up, and I was assured it was no drama. (So I settled in for the ride.)

By the time I got to that bus, though, I was ready to be there.

It wasn’t a long journey, only a mile, and I’d normally walk, but again, I was late, and didn’t know where I was going.

So after the third or fourth bus stop in a row, I was properly impatient, and must have had a sour look on my face.

Then the fifth stop was the doozy.

An elderly Latino man got on the bus, walking very slowly. He had on a dapper hat, (not a fedora, more short and peaked,) a sharp outfit, and these glittery, oversized sunglasses.

(If Elton John had ever looked as good in his sunglasses as this guy did, I’d be surprised.)

I noticed him immediately, and then time stopped.

Literally.

Because the man had his bus ticket in his wallet, in his back pocket, but he couldn’t get it out to save his life.

I watched as his hand slowly tried to work the wallet back and forth, bit by bit hoping it would slide out from its overstuffed home.

He stood there, motionless, but for the little bit his arm and hand moved, as they fruitlessly tried to access his bus pass.

30 seconds went by.

Then a minute.

I was transfixed.

90 seconds, and finally he had progress.

The last bit was easier than you might think, he paid his fare, then came and sat down near me.

It was like I was in the presence of a proper showman, a rock star from a previous era, and I’d watched him in a mini-life movie, right there on the bus in Chicago.

I tell you this story, today, while I’m fighting off the winter blues, because as much as I’m thrilled to be facing a 4 month travel break, to recharge and restore…sometimes we do need to get out of our own little worlds to realize how big it is out there.

In the best case, art can help us do that too.

It’s the reason people like these portfolio review articles, I think, because it allows you to see so many different viewpoints and perspectives in each piece.

And at every festival I go to, the range of photographic work I see is as broad as Lake Michigan.

So here were are, speak of the devil, in Part 2 of “The Best Work I Saw at the Filter Photo Festival.”

As usual, the artists are in no particular order.

We’ll begin today with one of my favorite Chicago photographers, Yvette Marie Dostatni. We met at a festival a few years ago, and I loved her quirky, funny, and definitely absurd series, “The Conventioneers,” which I wrote about at the time.

Yvette and I stayed in touch, and I admit I’m a big fan of her work. But when I saw her at Photolucida this past Spring, I didn’t love some of what she showed me, and gave her a tough critique.

In the follow up, Yvette told me about a project she’d done visiting Indiana, where her family comes from, which she thought I might like.

(Boy, did I.)

As I didn’t get to feature Yvette in my Portland series, and she’s both Chicago through-and-through, and a former Filter participant, I thought it would be perfect to include her in this series.

I admired Thomas Brasch’s intention in his work immediately, as he described his desire to make healing, positive work out of terrorism against humanity.

Not an easy goal, to be sure.

He described an intensive digital process through which photographs taken at or near the scene of mass shootings were digitally manipulated into mandala-like creations.

I liked some more than others, but as I got to look at them consecutively, I got a sense of the good juju coming off of them. I’m actually showing a large selection below, because it creates a pretty cool sensation.

Thomas and I had a great chat about how such restrictions, (on process and form/shape,) which originally inspire us, eventually can be constraining, so it’s good to stay fluid.

Like Margaret LeJeune last week, I had one of “those” chats with Nina Riggio. The one where I explain why I think one project falls short, only to have the artist show me, with the next series in the box, that they had it all sorted already.

In Nina’s case, she had a documentary photo project about some Venus flytrap poachers in North Carolina that felt very “parachute journalism” to me, despite her passion.

I asked about things more personal, or connected to her life experience, and she brought out these images of Tesla factory workers who live in their vehicles.

As Nina had already told me she is based in a van, the intersection was powerful. I’ve written a lot about the West Coast, (and perhaps American) homelessness epidemic, and this is a really intriguing, poignant and visceral way to convey a part of the story.

Next, we’ve got Ruth Lauer Manenti, from the Catskills in NY, whom I met early on the first day of the festival. Ruth is a great example of what I wrote earlier, as she told me she was trained in painting and drawing, but had come to photography when she inherited an old large format camera.

Much as I’m currently using my photo skills to learn how to draw, (seeing is seeing,) Ruth figured out her own way of communicating photographically.

It’s spare, Zen, and very, very beautiful.

Love it!


Sam Scoggins is back in the column, as likely the first person to be featured twice, with different work, from two different festivals in the same year.

(Quite the achievement, if you think about it.)

After Photolucida, I published Sam’s black and white documentary photographs of Upstate NY night time party creatures. Then, he went on to have success with a artificial, digital landscape project.

But in Chicago, I noted him toting around a huge box of prints, but couldn’t see what they were. During the portfolio walk on Saturday night, based on their size and the edges that stuck out, I found that Sam had also been working on a cyanotype series as well.

Talk about prolific!

There are two groups, featuring endangered native species toned in oil, and then an invasive species bunch as well, all from near his home.

What a talented guy.

Native species plants

Β 

Invasive plants


Finally, we have Sarah Pfohl, who is a photo professor in Indianapolis.

Sara told me that she was working on a very a personal documentary series on her family’s property in Upstate New York, as she did not expect to ever inherit it.

For her, the place represented home, but Sara felt there was limited amount of time that she’d be able to access it, and those feelings.

So her work amounted to memory-creation and capture, but also a quiet elegy to the death of her childhood, in a way. It’s a sad place to leave you, today, but then again, it’s November, with all the sad light.

See you next week!

The Best Work I Saw at the Filter Photo Festival: Part 1

 

I was doing some math last week.

Adding up the number of days I’ve spent in Chicago over the last four years.

I was talking to my son about it, and realized that 5 trips at 5-6 days each equates to almost a month.

A month!
In a city I barely knew.

I’ve gone from not knowing where I was going, to almost remembering the landmarks but getting a little turned around, to kind-of-remembering and mostly going in the right direction, to knowing where I was and walking with a military march in my step.

What can I tell you?

Chicago is a beautiful city, and the large downtown area, filled with gorgeous skyscrapers, is set up against a blue lake as big as an ocean. There are green waterways criss-crossing the city as well, things you’ve seen in movies, with building reflections shimmering in the water below bridge-crossings.

People are friendly, and though it bears a resemblance to Manhattan, with the 20th Century, period nature of a lot of the buildings, it’s much cleaner.

An Über driver from Morocco told me he thinks Chicago is still much cheaper, and therefore more livable, than its East and West Coast mega-city competition.

But this September, at the 2019 Filter Photo Festival, I couldn’t help thinking it was strange how quickly something can go from new and fascinating to comfortable and nostalgic.

Here’s an example.

On Thursday night, after a long first day of reviewing portfolios, there was a little gap in the schedule before a reception at the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College, where Teju Cole’s fantastic, curated exhibition “Go Down Moses” was on display.

Rather than Übering or Lyfting, cabbing, bussing, or taking the subway, I chose to walk, alone, to gather my thoughts.

It’s about two miles, and I’ve done it before, so I know the way.

And I was also hoping I’d bump into someone.

Sure enough, on a street corner opposite Millennium Park, (before you get to the Art Institute,) I saw blues singer/guitar player/drummer Brian Doroba, in the same spot he was a couple of years before, when I stumbled upon his act, awestruck.

I had left early enough to be able to stop and listen, (just in case,) and got a ten minute concert of some genuinely killer street blues.

I dropped a couple of bucks in the hat, made a video to remember the moment, and sunk into the music, bopping my head as I leaned back against the side of a building.

Other people stopped, breaking their routines to engage with the blues, right there amid the theater of the street.

It was pretty excellent, as far as moments go.

And it felt symbolic of my view towards the Filter festival:Β I have incredibly high expectations, and they’re consistently met, even if I can’t be surprised, like I was when everything was new.

At this point, the Filter crew has their mission dialed in, and the festival is hyper-well run.

Their systems work, their venue is great, and the members of their team complement each other well. (Which I wrote about in last week’s team-building column.)

Filter has lectures, workshops, exhibitions and parties, along with four days of reviews.

Things just work so well.

People arrive at your table on time, never late, and leave when they’re supposed to. The breaks come at just the right time. The food is amazing, and the vibe in the reviewing room is positive.

To establish this level of excellence, in the heart of a world-class city, is to be commended.

But we all know I went to Filter to look at portfolios to publish here. I scouted some great stuff, and am thrilled to be able to share it with you now.

That’s right: we’re officially opening the series, “The Best Work I saw at the Filter Photo Festival,” and this is only part one.

As usual, the artists are in no particular order.

Let’s get to it!

I totally loved Adam Frint’s work, and can even say it inspired me.

Adam showed me a series called “Smoke Break,” in which he’d skulked around Chicago, watching people on their aforementioned alone time. And then he photographed them.

The concept is simple, but the pictures are dynamic and mysterious.

Then he showed me a different idea, which he had worked out as drawings. (He’s trained as a designer, and works in various media.)

Loved them too.

I’ve had a drawing project in mind for a while, and recently started, and I’d like to think Adam’s work triggered my confidence.

There was a lot of strong photography at Filter, so you may find me throwing compliments around. But I was really struck by Crystal Tursich’s work, and thought they were some of the best matte paper prints I’d ever seen.

I caught one or two out of the corner of my eye at the portfolio walk, the night before I had a review with her, so they looked amazing at a distance, and up close.

At these meetings, I often critique matte prints that are flat, or oversaturated.Β Most everyone presents prints that limit the illusion of 3 dimensional space.

But not Crystal. Her prints were extraordinary.

She seemed to appreciate the compliments, and let me know it was no accident, but that she worked hard at her craft.

As for the subject matter, the images are personal, and inspired by a miscarriage. They were super-impressive in person, but show well digitally too.


Whitney Bradshaw was another Chicago artist, and had a project that was getting buzz and attention, and had been exhibited a lot lately too. (Hopefully with more opportunities ahead.)

The project, “Outcry,” Β is based on meet-ups that Whitney organizes, predominantly at her own home, where different women from various backgrounds come together to scream; communing around their own personal experience, or broader experience, with sexual violence. (Meaning most, but not all women are survivors.)

Whitney, who was a social worker, and has an MFA from Columbia College, then photographs the women when they’re screaming.

It’s intense, and apparently cathartic. I think it’s phenomenal as social practice work, and large format photographic installation.

I’ve seen Jim Ferguson’s work before, because we have a mutual friend in common. I even remembered the premise, which is the he doesn’t have proper depth perception in his vision.

So he makes work that visually communicates the way he sees. (Here were are with the flattened picture plane again.)

While I liked his previous black and white work, these color pictures were very cool. I told Jim about my critique of “headache” art at Photolucida, but his pictures make you see differently, without the need for ibuprofen.

I’m very curious to see what he comes up with next.

Margaret LeJeune had my favorite story of the festival. Or, rather, the story of our encounter was most memorable.

She told me, straight off, that she’d lived on a boat in the Atlantic Ocean for 14 months, sailing around the seas, making art.

I was hooked.

And she also let me know she’d been trained at the Visual Studies Workshop, so I expected high level technical skills.

I was crestfallen when the first thing she showed me were OK, documentary photo-style images, done with a not-special camera, shot around coast lines, and they didn’t give me any specificity.

Honestly, I didn’t understand how she didn’t do something more original, given what she seemed capable of.

She got a smile on her face, which is always a good sign, and told me about her other project, harvesting bioluminescent creatures from the sea, raising them back home in a studio lab, and using them in her photographs.

Say what now?

They are genius, and maybe for once I’m not exaggerating by using that word.

Last but not least, we have Vaune Trachtman.

I’ve written before that it’s important to judge the right time to approach someone at a festival, if you don’t have a review with them.

Well, I got into an elevator with Vaune, and she was super nice about letting me know she’d hoped to show me her work, but hadn’t had the chance.

Nothing pushy, totally genuine, and it allowed me to be a nice guy, which is always my preference.

So I gave her my card, and told her I’d look at her website if she dropped me a line. She did follow up, with an email and a thank you note, and once I got a proper set of jpegs, I knew they would look great here.

These images are trippy, suggesting a November, nocturnal voyage. They have a gravitas, and a sense of purpose that I really like. Normally, I think light trails are kitschy, but here they work.

Hope you enjoy them, and I’ll have more for you next week!

The Best Work I Saw at Photolucida: Part 6

 

I didn’t sleep well last night.

Not at all.

I woke up, imagining it was nearly 6, and waited for the alarm to go off.

When it didn’t, I finally looked at the clock, and it was 3:15 in the morning.

Ouch.
Oof.
Barf.

All told, I was up from 2:45-4:45am, which is atypical for me. I even found myself doing Qi Gong exercises by the light of the moon, at 4am, trying to will myself to get tired again.

It didn’t work.

Why am I telling you this? (Silly question. I get personal each week.)

Well, I’m trying to establish my right to keep the intro short and sweet today. As it stands, I’ve got to be up at 5am tomorrow to drive to Albuquerque and fly out to Chicago for the Filter Photo Festival. (One of my favorite cities, and festivals, anywhere.)

This means I’ll have a whole new set of portfolios to show you in the coming months, as I’ll be reviewing work for a few days in Chicago. (And partying my face off. Man, do they know how to have a good time there.)

But it also means that we’ve got to end our series on Photolucida, the stellar festival I attended back in April, up in the Pac Northwest in Portland.

When I began this series, “The Best Work I Saw at Photolucida,” I told you there was so much good work, I’d be writing about it for months.

And so I have.

Never have I ever done a 7 part series on a festival before, but between 5 portfolio articles, and two stories about books I picked up, it’s exactly what’s happened.

And while it’s never taken me this long to wrap up a series before, there’s a first time for everything.

Kudos to the Photolucida team for bringing together so many talented photographers. But Chicago beckons, so it’s time to put this baby to bed. (And hopefully I’ll follow. Damn do I need a nap.)

As always, the artists are in no particular order, and I hope you enjoy the work below.

Let’s begin with Alexis Pike, if only because her work is fun, and as I’m both grumpy and nauseated from exhaustion, fun sounds good to me.

Alexis showed me her project, (also a book by Ain’t Bad,) featuring work about the cult of Evil Knievel. That name might not mean anything to all the millennials out there, (truth,) but the now-dead daredevil was the biggest thing going back in the 70’s. (Yes, I feel old today.)

Alexis is from Idaho, and teaches in Montana, where Evil’s demographic still runs deep. Killer stuff. (No pun intended.)

Now things are going to get a little gloomy. First, let’s look at the work of Hillary Clements Atiyeh, who showed me a very heavy project. Apparently, her (now) ex-husband was in a small plane crash, and and suffered serious injuries.

She helped nurse him back to health, before they divorced, and these photographs document their difficult journey. One imagines the art also served as a major stress release valve for Hillary, as we all know that art is among the best ways to express our emotions in a healthy, controlled way.

Super-poignant stuff.

And let’s get the other super-heavy project out of the way now too. Joe Wallace and I had a review together, and he brought along a project about people suffering from Alzheimer’s.

It’s a disease that affects so many people, but I don’t think it gets the same recognition in media as cancer does now, or perhaps AIDS did back in the 80’s and 90’s. But with the baby boomer generation rapidly aging, caring for the (potentially) millions of dementia sufferers will soon be a nationwide problem.

Powerful art, for sure.

On a political, but also weighty note, we’ll move on to Rich Frishman, whom I first met at Photo NOLA back in 2017. While Rich then showed me a series of Americana-themed images that have since gone on to success, this time, he dove into the belly of racism in America.

He photographed places that are seminal in the racist history of America, (how’s that for a not-proud subject,) and along with Jeanine Michna-Bales’ photos about the Underground Railroad, (which we’ve published a couple of times before,) they serve as a good example of the way visual history can supplement the written word, when it comes to proper preservation.

An official Texas Historic Landmark, the Goliad Hanging Tree is a symbol of justice, Texas-style.

The newly freed African Americans of the Shiloh Community established a school for their children shortly after the Civil War. The one-room building was demolished in the late 1800’s and classes were held at the Shiloh Baptist Church.

The United States government has recently begun fortifying the border between the US and Mexico. This new gate actually separates American farmers from their croplands just to the south, still in the United States.

Built in 1930, Hamtramck Stadium was home to the Negro National League Detroit Stars in 1930-1931 and again in 1933. The field was also home to the Detroit Wolves of the Negro East-West League in 1932, and to the Negro American League Detroit Stars in 1937.

Houston Negro Hospital School of Nursing, built in 1931, now stands abandoned along with the hospital with which it once was associated.

Palimpsest of bricks closing the former entrance for “Colored People” at the Saenger Theatre in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

The first Mississippi state field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Medgar Evers was shot in the back in the carport of his humble home in Jackson, Mississippi, shortly after midnight on June 12, 1963. He died less than a hour later at a nearby hospital.

During the Freedom Summer of 1964 three civil rights activists were jailed briefly in the small Neshoba County jail on trumped up charges. When Mickey Shwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney were released that night, they were followed by Ku Klux Klan members tipped off by the sheriff’s office. They were forced off the road en route to their office in Meridian, taken to this remote backroads location and bludgeoned to death. Their bodies were later found in an earthen dam.

During the first half of the 20th century, the small community of Idlewild was known as β€œThe Black Eden.” It was one of the few resorts in the country where African-Americans were allowed to vacation and purchase property, before discrimination was outlawed in 1964 through the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Richard Andrew Sharum, from Dallas, had some photographs of Cuba, and hoped that they might distinguish themselves from all the other projects shot in Cuba. (One of our Antidote students this summer also tried to claim a “different” version of Cuba, but I’m not sure it’s possible at the moment.)

As he’s a photojournalist who covers a variety of stories, Richard asked if I’d agree to look at more work online, to see if something else was appropriate for this article, and I agreed.

He sent me this very powerful project about homeless school children in Texas, and I gave him an immediate yes. (Not hard to see why, right?)

I may have my professional writer’s card taken away for using the word “Americana” twice in the same article, but since the first instance referred to an article from nearly 2 years ago, I’m going to risk it.

It’s the best way I can think of to describe Lisa Guerrero’s excellent little group of pictures, given that I’m down 10 or 15 IQ points at the moment. (Even with the coffee. There is not enough coffee in the world to make me feel better right now.)

But these pictures did put a smile on my face. It’s not that they’re glib, or overly lighthearted, but a few weeks ago I admitted that I still try hard to love this country, and pictures like this seem to channel the absurdist-yet-earnest take on the USA that I try to share, in my better moods.

Finally, we’ll finish with Rebecca Hackemann, who is English, but is a professor in Kansas. (Bet she has a hard time getting a proper fish and chips there. Hope she likes barbecue.)

As to the work, it was conceptual, and 3D/sculptural, including a stereoscopic project, and these tintype photograms featuring antiquated technology. At first, I didn’t think it would reproduce well here, but once I saw her jpegs, I realized they were well worth showing. Hope you enjoy them, and see you next week.

 

The Best Work I Saw at Photolucida: Part 5

 

I made a new friend the other day.

His name is Keith.

He’s originally an East Coaster, like me, and now works as the security guard at the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, where my “Party City is the Devil” show opens today.

Last week, while I was installing, Keith hung around a bit, and we got to talking. As the show took many hours to put together, over three days, it allowed for quite a bit of chatter.

In all honesty, when I first saw him, I did ask myself why he was the one protecting the joint. Not that he’s fat, old, or unimposing, (because he’s not,) but his look doesn’t scream dangerous either.

Keith has had an interesting life, filled with different phases, and confided he once spent years as the private chef for the CEO of Reebok.

Only after we’d gotten to know each other a bit, and he judged me cool, (I gather,) did he open up his jacket to show me his massive gun and even scarier knife.

Turns out, Keith knows some martial arts, but is a highly trained weapons specialist. A master marksman, he is quick off the draw, and is as familiar with handguns as shotguns and AR-15 rifles.

Yesterday, he showed me another knife, just as nasty, and a baton that can break bones faster than John Bolton is gonna get a tell-all book deal.

And he let me handle his Smith and Wesson .45 caliber hand cannon.

Truth time: it scared me shitless.

For most of us, guns, as objects, are terrifying. I don’t know how to use them, nor how to shoot, so to me, they emanate violence and misery.

I know they’re just a tool, (which Keith confirmed,) but man, are they unpleasant.

So you might be surprised to know I asked Keith to teach me how to shoot, and handle weapons properly. And he agreed.

Say what now?

Why would an artsy, hipster liberal want to know how to use a killing machine?

Because it was about as far out of my comfort zone as I could imagine going.

Over the years, I’ve come to dispense advice here, along with the art criticism, and doing things you find scary and difficult is one of the very best ways to grow as a human being. (And by extension, as an artist.)

That’s what it means, the phrase “get out of your comfort zone.” It’s about challenging yourself, and running towards the fear, and your weak spots, instead of away from them.

Another habit I think is undervalued, (or at least underutilized,) is knowing how to admit you’re wrong, and accept accountability and responsibility for your actions.

It may be the most Un-Trumpian thing a person can do, saying sorry and backtracking, but I believe it’s super-important.

Right now, I’m thinking of a particular incident that happened last April, when I was at the Photolucida festival in Portland. (We’re going to wrap up the series this and next week.)

It was on the last evening, at the closing party, when all the people from the festival were thrown together, artists and reviewers alike, and everyone was as worn down and low-functioning as they could be. (You try talking, looking, thinking and partying for 4 days straight.)

I wrote in a previous column that the photographers at this particular festival were too pushy and aggressive, for whatever reason, and that last night, people were approaching me left and right.

Someone even chastised me for removing my name tag, as if I’d broken the law.

I was grumpy, and spent, no question.

It took about 10 minutes to get from the front of the room to the back, and when I finally made it, Carol Isaak, a photographer I’ve since published here, approached me.

She asked, over the din, if I’d go outside with her for a private chat.

I was so tired, and burnt, that I was rude to her. I know I was.

“No, I said, I won’t go outside right now. But I will listen to you. Whatever you have to say, just say it here.”

Again, she implored me to go outside with her, and again I said no.

“Whatever you want to say there,” I grunted, “you can say here instead.”

I believe I mentioned in that last article that Carol is married to a Rabbi. I was courting some seriously bad Jewish karma by speaking to her like that.

So she looked me square in the eye, and took out a hearing aid. She held it up to my face, without a word, and watched me dangle on the hook like a dead hit man in a meat locker.

My face fell, I apologized profusely, and followed her to the front steps of the venue. (Sheepishly.)

As it happened, I’d asked Carol about the connection between her Buddhist-seeming India photographs, and her Jewish spirituality, and after a day or two of thinking about it, she had an answer for me. (She also accepted my apology graciously.)

Needless to say, I felt awful, but managed to salvage what I’d made of a potentially bad situation. (As a known good-guy, I really didn’t want people to think I’m an asshole.)

But now that we’re on the subject of Portland, it’s time to show the rest of the best work I saw. (This week and next week.) As usual, the artists are in no particular order, but as we have a lot to get through in the final two installments, I will be showing slightly smaller segments than I normally do.

Let’s get going!

Weldon Brewster is a successful commercial photographer based in Pasadena, who recently decided to focus more on his personal projects. He’s hardcore, for sure, as he sold his house and bought a new one with a studio, once he decided to commit.

Weldon is interested in Pictorialism, the style that was en vogue at the turn of the 20th C, before the group f.64 crew made it unfashionable in the 1920’s and 30’s. As such, the images he showed me of the California coast were intentionally soft and lush.

I liked them immediately, and later learned, (courtesy of Andy Adams,) that one of the images looked very much like a photograph on the cover of a famed Wynn Bullock book. So in our follow up, we discussed how one can stick with a project, and develop work more deeply, to move away from associations with things that have been done before.

Dawn Watson was one of several artists I met for a second time, as I’d reviewed one of her projects, (and published it here,) after the LACP Exposure portfolio review in 2017.

It was fascinating to see how it had evolved, as she clearly took some of my advice to heart, and it was strange to hear myself saying things that I’d clearly already said 2 years earlier. (Dawn and I both have good recall, I guess.)

Rather than showing the same work, though, we’re going to share a new, in-progress series she’s working on in the studio. The constructions, nature in an unnatural environment, are experimental, and very cool.

Marian Crostic, to lean into the theme, was also an artist I’d met at a previous LACP Exposure review. And she too had heard my critique, and then pushed herself much further. In particular, Marian, who lives on the West side of LA, and walks on the beach frequently, worked hard to imbue her imagery with more of a sense of Zen wonder.

They don’t need much of an explanation, (as you’ll soon see,) but are quite beautiful and lovely. No doubt you’ll be smitten, and wish that summer wasn’t 11.5 months away.

Cable Hoover is a fellow New Mexican, and was born and raised in Gallup. Anyone who’s driven through the West along I-40 might have passed through, and it presents as a dusty, hardcore Wild West town. (Not unlike Taos, but with less tourism, and no skiing.)

Rather, Gallup is in the Four Corners region, adjoining the Navajo Nation, and is known to be a properly tough town. These days, everyone likes to see “true” stories from inside a culture, rather than from without, and these images are about as raw as it gets.

Dynamite (and tragic) stuff.

Martha Ketterer, like Marian, is also smitten with the ocean. She presented a series of photographs made on the beach in Cabo, and explained a rather complicated technique she employs to create the panoramic effect.

I wasn’t sure the dividing lines made the pictures stronger, and told her so, but really, what’s not to like here?