Ultimately, Photography is subversive, not when it frightens, repels, or even stigmatizes, but when it is pensive, when it thinks. – Roland Barthes
Photolucida‘s bi-annual portfolio reviews festival might only last three days, but all of April presents a feast for Portland’s photography lovers. The lectures, gallery walks, and reviews themselves, where a plethora of mid-career artists gather to network and receive feedback, are just the tip of the iceberg. Galleries all over the city are exhibiting photography this month- maybe you saw some on First Thursday! The PADA galleries are offering an incredible array of landscapes, portraits, documentaries, narratives, and processes. Take a look:
Charles A. Hartman Fine Art is showing The Fall of Spring Hill, a solo exhibition from critically acclaimed photographer Holly Andres. In large-scale, lush color images, Andres ponders the brevity of childhood, the fleeting nature of memory, and female introspection. This new work is the most recent chapter in an on-going photographic project depicting short melodramas of fictitious families. These are personal accounts of childhood memories in which mothers performed heroic acts in an attempt to protect their children. As in her previous work, this new series is concerned with revisiting, recreating and preserving history, the interweaving of fact and fiction and finding a place in which biography and fictitious narration come together.
In an exhibition co-curated by Seattle’s G. Gibson Gallery, two photographers at the Laura Russo Gallery are showing works that reflect on different perspectives tied to childhood experiences and memory. Julie Blackmon’s photographs explore interpersonal dynamics, illustrating “the stress, chaos and the need to simultaneously escape and connect” that characterize family life in her experience, while referencing the 17th-century Dutch genre painting tradition that inspires her. Eirik Johnson grew up in the Pacific Northwest, and while he is currently based in Boston, he remains compelled by the region’s iconic forests. In Sawdust Mountain, Johnson juxtaposes the majestic landscape with the encroaching industrial and cultural shifts of our time. The resulting photographs show the intersection of ecology and industry in our own backyard.
It’s a series of firsts at Elizabeth Leach Gallery this month: Isaac Layman, large-format photographer and 2008 Betty Bowen Award winner, in his first solo exhibition in Portland,and Beat poet Allen Ginsberg‘s first photographic exhibition in the Pacific Northwest. Layman uses a 4×5 camera and the magic of photoshop to monumentalize the mundane, as objects from his own house take on a hyperreal quality that skirts the line between real and abstract, quotidian and sublime. These images are joined by Portraits, Ginsberg’s shots of friends and fellow Beat heavyweights in intimate, unguarded moments engendered by familiarity and friendship. This show is a must-see for fans of Ginsberg, Kerouac, Burroughs, and their contemporaries, as it offers a rare glimpse into their personal and working lives.
PDX Contemporary Art offers a solo exhibition by Amjad Faur entitled Bethlehem in Wax, a meditation on representation and history that employs constructed environments, symbolism, and cultural readings to explore the existential implications of modern, occupied Palestine. These black and white carbon pigment prints explore photography as a medium as much as the implications of what they depict. At PDX Across the Hall, Masao Yamamoto‘s exhibition of silver gelatin prints, KAWA=FLOW, is also a meditation, but on the rupture between the present and what comes before or after, expressed by “Kawa”, the Japanese word for river or flowing water. Both exhibitions illuminate the way that forms and formal choices can evoke metaphor and emotion.
Not one, not two, but three solo photography exhibitions are taking place at Froelick Gallery this month: Proof, by Ron Van Dongen; <r e s t r a i n t>, by Susan Seubert; and Cinema Deconstructed, by Theresa Wingert, and all showcase a unique approach to the medium. More multimedia artist than straight photographer, Wingert has combined landscape and soundscape to evoke memory, place, and narrative. Seubert’s ambrotypes, which are created using an anachronistic wet plate process, explore the titular theme in multiple, multifaceted manifestations, from the culturally-imposed (Chinese foot-binding slippers, Niqabs, and corsets) to the more formal and literal (a stack of letters tied with twine). By contrast, the subject’s of Proof, a selection of floral studies stored and forgotten by Van Dongen for years, are not the focus of his exhibition. Rather, it is the new images created by the chemical degradation and reactions that have taken place, without supervision or intention, on the surface of the original Polaroids. These images, which were each affected idiosyncratically by the breakdown of chemicals and the passage of time, highlight the beauty and inevitability of chaos and the impermeability of life, even when captured and “preserved” by the lens.
On the Eastside of the river at 23 Sandy Gallery, alternative processes take on fresh contexts in Photo Alchemy, a group exhibition jurored by Laura Moya and open since April 1. These images are crafted using some of photography’s earliest methods, with hand-coated papers, hand-mixed chemistry, and a poetic and enigmatic perspective of life and its mysteries. Quotes Moya, “These new images explore the notion that the time spent ‘crafting’ a photograph versus ‘taking’ a photograph gives the photographer space for thought. If one is working with heavy lenses, glass plates, or a multitude of chemicals, time slows down. If one is considering how air temperature might affect one’s film, time really slows down. It is the complexity of these processes that bring gifts to the table.”
At Butters Gallery, Ltd, Andrea Maki‘s portraits of wild horses held temporarily captive provide a counterpoint to the collaboration of Demetrius Noble and Julian Hibbard, whose photographic collaborations document an extraordinary collection of model planes, handcrafted from found materials by an elderly Chilean artist. Both series are being exhibited under the title New Exposures, and it is Noble and Hibbard’s first gallery showing of this body of work. Both also treat their subjects with a reverence that is echoed in their hand-treatment of the surfaces.
Caleb Charland’s Demonstrations, a collection of silver gelatin prints that document the magical transformation of everyday objects through the power of physics and human ingenuity, is currently on view at Bullseye Gallery. These images bestow the artist’s own sense of wonder and possibility upon the viewer, who becomes witness to these frozen moments of transformation. Charland’s background in construction and childhood in rural Maine informs both the simplicity and ingenuity of the work. This exhibition is hosted in collaboration with Blue Sky Gallery (Portland) and Michael Mazzeo Gallery (New York).
Augen Gallery is also offering multiple photography exhibitions, including Vintage Prints, by 5th-generation Oregonian and longtime photographer Ron Cronin. Since 1969, Cronin has been traveling the state andNorthwest to document its full range of vast landscape scenes with a large-format Deardorff camera. With the capability to produce 8 x 10 inch negatives and 30 x 40 inch prints, Cronin probes the very components of his expansive subjects- the land and sky- placing our human scale into modest perspective, while at the same time, investigating bursts of vivid, miniscule living organisms that force us to hone our gaze. In addition to Vintage Prints, Augen Gallery’s back room is home to a selection of photographs by Phil Bard, David Levinthal and Grace Weston.
The back room of Blackfish Gallery is now home to a short photo series by Jim Neidhardt entitled Museum. Examining the effect new visual technologies have on the behavior of museum visitors, Museum documents what happens when personal digital devices intervene in the art experience. The photographs were taken at the British Museum in London, where all types of recording devices are permitted, including flash.