If you've ever taken a trip through
New England, Cape Cod or Provincetown, it goes with out saying you know
something about the quality of light out there. Those tender revealing hues of
light, and the color blue like nothing else you've ever seen; everything's
rich. That light and those blues, touch every inch of you - every inch of
everything. You can't be out there and not think about Edward Hopper's
paintings. John Arsenault's work is a lot like them, if Edward Hopper had a
hidden closest full of good shoes, leather, and a cache of kinky friends.
Similarly to Hopper, Arsenault has that sense of light and surrealism. His
subjects don't simply pose, they penetrate their frames. What on earth could
they possibly be thinking about?
Arsenault spent the better part of two years as "barmaid," as he
lovingly refers to it, at the Eagle in LA. "A very unexpected chance." He tells
me. Lucky for us he had his smartphone camera during his time there from 2012 to 2013. The man has made
smartphone cameras an art. On a personal note, I couldn't thank him enough for
that. It's hard to believe, but no denying, the man can take the piss out of a
photograph. Touching light bleeds in the darkness of the bar. Casting hues and
dimension over bodies and surfaces. Piercing the point of vision. These
photographs are as rich as they are intimate. The bar is transformed, more
Matisse in color and treatment than one would expect for a watering-hole
suck-shack like the Eagle. For anyone who is familiar with the Eagle, LA's or
otherwise, they may find the beginning of that metaphor an alarmingly unlikely
possibility. It comes highly suggested that the photos be seen - by way of
Arsenault's show Barmaid at ClampArt gallery, in New York - or by grabbing a
copy of his new monograph, of the same title, published by Daylight. The
proof's in the seeing of Arsenault's work.
"It's so important to me to be open
to the gray areas of my life. At first I didn't see photographing the Eagle as
a project unto itself. I fell into bar backing totally by chance. As I got to
know the people there I felt a commitment to them, myself, and this story."
Arsenault's work has always been very rooted in the self and the work is diaristic. It's interesting to note both the love and care in the
photo's, and the way Arsenault talks about them, and his experience. He's
always sought out this intimacy, with people, with place, with light. Oh, that
light. You don't need him to tell you his influence, the painterliness, and
gesture are clear. He has taken an otherwise cacophonous escapade and quieted
it down. Arsenault is a keeper of moments and tensions before, or maybe just
after something wonderful, something sexual, something depraved or totally
unforgettable. The environment becomes isolated and calmness sets in. But in
the dark of the bar there is never a complete assurance of that controlled
Eagle provided Arsenault with an opportunity to be a little out of place, maybe
very out of place. "At first I would come to work with this ideal of what I
should be or look like. And I realized I didn't need to pretend, it's more
important to hold onto myself." It's pretty easy to get sucked into the
atmosphere of a place, you walk different, you move different, and sometimes
you are able to forget everything just to fit in. People showing up and being
who they are and not some list of ideals is Arsenault's strongest message. It's
good to keep that in mind. The Eagle is full of vice, and it's the individual
people, the dark corners, and intimate moments that make it what it is.
Pacifico Silano is a BAXTER ST 2015 Workspace Resident. His new body of work, Tear Sheets - currently on view at BAXTER ST Camera Club of New York - pushes conversations that, as he puts it, "are my history." The images in his new body of work deal with issues of gender, identity, HIV/AIDS awareness, abstraction and photography. Silano is a photographer of photographs; a historian in many senses, and his work challenges the stigma of both the camera and HIV/AIDS. The images in the show are cultivated appropriations of historic queer ephemera, psychiatric literature like Martin S. Weinberg's 'The Male Homosexuals: Their Problems and Adaptations,' as well as various porno mags from the 70's - 80's. Magazines are favorites of Silano: Blueboy, Torso and Honcho These weren't just the cum rag, boy blasted, flip throughs of their day, they were also a platform of activism, nightlife, awareness, and gay rights. Historically these things were used as a way of illuminating secrets. The images in Tear Sheets add to a new context of queered identity - what it is and what it is capable of becoming.
The world has changed for gays since the AIDS crisis - the death of many. Today, there are new developments in medicine, technologies, and there are new rights - HOORAH. Never before has this powerful interconnectedness been so accessible and so present; so able to bring together as well as divide. The advances of our times are exciting and contradictory. Silano's work is a reflection of these juxtapositions. The world spins forward, and we look back in commemoration - to learn and reflect, to see new. From this inquest of space and history there is discovery and invention. Here the parts come together - for Silano. The images he makes are inescapably contemporary for all their awareness and sensibility.
The wrecked savagery of sex and print are salvaged by the treatment of Silano's compositions. "The work comes from boxes of scraps that for a while I couldn't think of what to do with," he shares. The removal in the work happens as an affect of his excavating his archive. The work plays out before us. His appropriations become void and lucid, highly suggestive and pensive.
At their most basic, the photos are abstract. They posses a quality of recognition and a hunger to delve deeper - to learn more. His images are at times figurative, always sculptural - becoming almost architectural. Depth and space are a tricky deception in a photograph. Silano plays off these sensibilities and discomforts. His iconography is one of a picture's generation - an aesthetic of elimination, down to a single idea. This suggests a sense of the sublime in nature.
Silano is as much a historian as he is an archivist. When I offered him a friend's VHS porn collection a few years back, he jumped at the offer. He's a collector of things, moving, still, tactile and articulated. These parts fuse in his practice - and the images are just as much photographs as they are collage. Cutting and tearing appropriated images - placed precisely - there is gesture, and the hand is always present in front of his camera. It's interesting however to note the use of negative space, huge fields of white, sometimes black. The edges of the appropriated image, or object, casts a shadow on the voided space. Suddenly, the photos teeter in a questioning way. Depth and object are brought into the flat surface of the photo. There is a sense of forgetting, of something lost. But then, he builds on top, next to, tucked behind - overlapping so as to become something new, or at least, changing the meaning of where it began. Reinterpretation blossoms from Silano's metamorphoses.
All these pretty words for such pretty things - the facts are the facts - the work is engaging for a multitude of reasons.
Douglas Eklund, Exhibition Curator of the Department of Photographs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, has put it best in regard to The Pictures Generation and how they, "worked at the intersection of personal and collective memory, rummaging through the throwaway products of their youth... in search of moments that both never existed yet were indelibly stamped in the mind." The scavenging of Silano's photography is addressing this history of indelible making. Some of these are before his time, but there's always a yearning to know what happened just before you got here. The work in Tear Sheets is a way of capturing and reanimating something that's been lost.
I'll give you an example: Six of the seven original members of The Village People are still around. It's a desire like that, to find out, to know that something isn't gone, and now is full of potential in its anonymity. Anyone can search for a sense of culture that seemed important at a certain time, but now is so vague, it's almost antique. Capturing that hazy memory - remembering it - and allowing it to become what it wasn't before, is Pacifico Silano's most powerful asset as an artist.
Photographer Frances F. Denny wants you to know you can be an imperfect feminist. That's an OK thing to be. Ideals of 1920's feminism and femininity have changed. Denny's first solo show, currently at ClampArt in New York City, contemplates and questions ideals of being a woman. As one who grew up in the nineties, she may be the first to admit it was a rather glorious age of shiny stickers, glittery goo, pearly nail polish, balloons, and bright colors. Clouds, stars, ponies and the like! These things became cornerstone caricatures of girlhood. To a large extent, they still are. It seems poignant to point out that as a kid growing up in the nineties, identity seemed pretty amorphous for a good while there. There were odd edges around what cool was and I'm not sure we wanted it to be a specific thing. We grew up on a much different Nickelodeon, with an almost unrecognizable Britney Spears. We were cool with being totally quirky, maybe even okay with being completely poor. We weren't perfect, but we loved our bright colors and tons of sugar! And let's be honest, nineties kids were a little twisted. There was something in the air back then. Denny has put a good amount of this nurture into her photographs and exhibition, Pink Crush.
"How are we taught to be women? How are we taught to be feminine?" Denny is committed to a deep exploration of development; she's insightfully curious about experimenting. The work in Pink Crush explores the aesthetics of a woman who grows through a filter of pop culture and commercialism. Pinky and shimmery objects always seem to be the safe default to celebrate a woman's anything. Her works aren't a rebellion against this, but there is a desire to study and survey. The shape of the contemporary woman has become a strangely commodified landscape.
"The work burst from my head, like the birth of Athena." She is matter-of-fact. "Books and stories are far more generative to me and the work I make." Denny has not trapped herself in a rebellion of gender or a crisis of identity. She is practically a scientist; she studies so as to further the language and form of what it means to be woman. Her results are the wonderfully cultivated photographs of Pink Crush.
Denny's work has sympathy with the intimate, ornate and inescapably recognizable. There is a deeply personal quality in the photographs; her subjects and objects become more figurative and less specific in identity. The ambiguity cultivates a universal sense of anyone and everyone. The photographs may make you feel uncomfortable at times in their obscurity, but it's that uncertainty that makes them so wonderful. The pictures are a way to grasp a sense of woman through iconography, but they nurture a virtue to which anyone can relate. The images are highly saturated appearing unnatural - even plastic - yet they have a familiarity and a common motif of mending. The compositions, in their duality, stimulate a wonderfully confusing sense of engagement, a desire. You can almost taste the photos - some are sweet, others are explosive and sour.
Beyond the work, "which at times I wanted to feel a bit like a regurgitation of the girly aisle in a party store," Pink Crush is being displayed in tandem with a show of work that is from her first printed book published by Radius Books, "Let Virtue Be Your Guide." Denny shares how lucky she feels to have a role in photography. "I am so grateful to Brian [Clamp of ClampArt] and David [Chickey, of Radius Books] for letting me have the chance to make and show work that is about women being women." Denny and her work never for a moment lose sight of the gratitude it takes to achieve equality. Equality is nothing if we aren't people first. The parts that make us who we are help us become more whole. Pink Crush does that. It embraces the stuffness of being woman. The photos make it possible to understand the self. They aren't for a moment ashamed of their identity. The colors, the kooky shapes, the dirty leftovers, the uneven edges and all that stuff in-between, make a woman. She is a whole person.
A forest is many parts - the landscape, the creatures, the trees, all the wonderful dirty little pieces. There are ways of learning in this atmosphere; the lessons to take away are exciting and unusual. This education is something that can't be found in a book, it lays behind bark and experience. To watch a child grow in this wilderness is uncertain, touching, exhilarating. Jesse Burke's Wild & Precious is a collection of photographs he took of his daughter, Clover, over the course of five years and many trips out into wilderness. Through these trips, we watch Clover grow.
Burke's work upholds the sentiment of something Anaïs Nin once wrote: "We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations." These lessons are the hope Burke has for Clover by taking her out into nature. It is also this hope that reads in his images of her. She sleeps, she searches, she collects and studies, she is hurt, she is strong, she is inquisitive, and in all the images she reads as totally respectful to the earth around her. Clover hungers for a kind of learning: she wants more.
The book is curated in a peculiar way. The photographs read more as a community than they do as a single sentence. They are lyrical and they penetrate. Black and white and color images coagulate - some big, others small. A narrative emerges and details entice, there's something tactile present in the surfaces of all the photos. It's hard to ignore this touch -maybe that's how Clover learns; maybe that's how anyone learns out in the wild. Feeling her way through she seems careful to leave only footprints.
"Oh, sweet child, I beg you to be wild, but stay precious," - caring words from a father to his daughter. The sentiment is beyond the bonds of blood. Burke has respect for his daughter; she is to come into her own. Clover will be a child, she will be a woman, and she will know how to be a person.
"During America's golden age of photojournalism, Bubley cast her discerning eye over a broad range of subjects including beauty pageants, boarding houses, schools, clinics and kitchens. Her immersive working process and compassion for her subjects yielded deeply insightful images that also subtly critique American culture on the eve of the Cold War and Civil Rights movement."
"At the well-baby clinic" 1953
Esther Bubley's archive is represented by her niece, Jean Bubley. We are both members of the American Photography Archive Group, an organization that includes many of the greats including Ruth Orkin, Arthur Rothstein, Philippe Halsman, and Fred W. McDarrah.
Jean Bubley will discuss the work of her aunt in a gallery talk at the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, August 27, 2015.
"Born in Phillips, Wisconsin, Bubley developed a passion for photography while serving as her high school's yearbook editor. She set out for New York City in 1940 to become a professional photographer. After a brief stint at Vogue magazine, she moved to Washington, D.C., and worked as a darkroom assistant to Roy Stryker at the Office of War Information (OWI). With Stryker's encouragement, Bubley began photographing neighborhoods and activities around Washington, recording the effects of World War II on the community. One of few OWI photographers who worked primarily with 35 mm and other small handheld cameras, Bubley developed a dynamic point-and-shoot style that enabled her to photograph from unusual angles."
"High school, in a classroom" 1945
"During the 1930s, images created by Dorothea Lange, Margaret Bourke-White and others made clear to government agencies and commercial clients that women could excel as photographers."
"In 1943, Stryker promoted Bubley to the position of OWI field photographer. She contributed more than 2,000 images to the OWI file over the course of that year. In these early photo-essays, Bubley's ability to capture people in natural, unaffected poses is evident. She immersed herself in her assignments, touring on buses for weeks to document American bus travel and profiling a serviceman's family at home. When Roy Stryker left the OWI in late 1943 to establish a photographic library for the Standard Oil Company, Bubley followed, documenting the impact of the oil industry around the U.S. and beyond. One of her best-known assignments for Standard Oil depicted life in Tomball, Texas. Living in the town for six weeks, Bubley took more than 600 pictures documenting the town's commerce, industry, schools, churches and recreation. In her photographs, Tomball's citizens appear natural and unaffected, often unsmiling or not looking at the camera - a reflection of the artist's ability to work unnoticed."
"Backstage in Quest to Be Miss America, Atlantic City, New Jersey" 1957
All images by Esther Bubley, courtesy Jean B. Bubley, thanks to Nicole Straus Public Relations and Margery Newman.
The Long Term Survivor Project exhibition opened at San Francisco Camerawork on June 4th, in celebration of annual Pride month and in honor of National HIV / AIDS Long Term Survivor Day, which was June 5th.
SF Camerawork brings together works by Hunter Reynolds, Grahame Perry and portraits from our pal Frank Yamrus' series, A Sense of a Beginning, to address the experiences of HIV survivorship.
Go see if you are SF-based!
"Frank Yamrus' "A Sense of a Beginning" is a series of solemn and stately portraits of long-term HIV survivors. Through this series Yamrus tells the story of survivorship as manifested not only in the lines and physical attributes of his subjects' faces, which bear subtle testimony to the effects of HIV medications, but also as a factual declaration of presence. Each person depicted in the series is alive today thanks to a complex regimen of medication and years of struggle and determination. Long-term survivorship is a story of countless physician appointments, blood draws, continually shifting drug regimes and constant monitoring of T-cells and viral loads, in the midst of untold grief watching friends and loved ones die. Through the peak years of the struggle against AIDS may have faded into recent memory, survivors live on, bearing the impact of AIDS in their everyday lives."
"By 1991... we were on the front lines of war. We volunteered at various AIDS organizations, joined support groups, and attended fundraisers and many funerals. I became a Shanti Project buddy, helping and witnessing young men die, and worked at the Mt. Zion HIV Clinical Research Center with young men who sacrificed their bodies to help find a cure. As I recall our first decade in San Francisco, I cannot remember much that did not gravitate around AIDS. The words and acronyms that were so foreign to me not long before became embedded in my vernacular. Around this time, my photography transitioned to work about loss as it became the language I knew best. Like others, I analogized the pandemic to war and the early images I made romanticized death as a coping mechanism to deal with overwhelming grief....
"After countless physician appointments, blood draws, continually shifting drug regimes and constant monitoring of T-cells and viral loads, after untold days protesting and untold nights watching friends die, these courageous men and women allow us to examine the aftermath. Gone is the romanticized idea of battle and loss. In its place: the stark reality of years of struggle and fight. This series does not attempt to capture the tenor of those times or the great strides that have been made since. It simply documents survivorship - the physical, psychological and emotional turmoil AIDS has caused over the last 30-plus years." Frank Yamrus.
Our hero of the fantastical, Bear Kirkpatrick, has kindly rolled out a new set of eye-popping images in his Wall Portraits series, with a new solo exhibition of the prints opening next week at Daniel Cooney Fine Art in New York City.
"In his studio, Kirkpatrick applies feathers, dead bugs and other assorted materials on his subject's skin and hair as he listens to their stories. They reveal their experiences and he uses his imagination to see what lies below the surface. He imagines a history and another level of consciousness that might exist beyond our own."
It is barely 18 months since I first saw this project and it has been wonderful to watch it develop, and yes, now the be-all and end-all: a solo show in NYC. Props to Daniel Cooney for knowing great stuff when he sees it. Breasts or no breasts, right Bear?
Tabitha Soren has spent a dozen years delving into the realm of American baseball, exploring tradition, success, and failure. Using the tin type process to photograph some of the live action, she gives a nod to the history of both that process and baseball itself - coming to popularity at around the same time in US history. Embedding herself in the drafts, she uncovered the truth behind the glamour - that a small percentage ever make it to the Big League.
"FANTASY LIFE is a series that explores the fantasies that define America: Manifest destiny, the romantic idea of the restless wanderer, the hopeful idea that failure is just a step on the road to success, the notion that the pursuit of fame and fortune is also the pursuit of happiness, the belief that to secure one's identity, one must seek to stand apart from the community."
"￼Out of the thousands of players that are drafted into Major League Baseball each year, only a tiny percentage - about 6% - go on to play in 'The Show,' the big-pay, high-stakes galaxy of thirty teams that we all know, love and hate."
"Some of my subjects became well known, respected players at the highest level of the game. Some left baseball to pursue less glamorous work, such as selling insurance and coal mining. Some have struggled ￼with poverty - even homelessness. But the common thread among them all is that they had a shot, and they literally put their bodies on the line for the sake of the game."
It is very hard to do this deep project justice online, so you can go see it now at Kopeikin Gallery in LA, through June 6, 2015. The live exhibition includes:
A mixture of C prints and Selenium toned Gelatin Silver prints;
A wall of memorabilia from the 23 players I followed for 11 years (everything from kindergarten age baseball cards to arthroscopic x rays from knee surgeries);
A wall of comparison portraits showing that only 5 of the 21 subjects made it to the major leagues;
Tintypes of action shots from games;
Two sculptural elements: a vitrine of 40 bone spurs (many taken out of the players during surgery to improve their game) and an acrylic 4 foot high tower of shelled peanuts, with 6% of the peanuts at the top painted gold.
Coming soon to a very fortunate New York City, at the Grey Art Gallery, New York University, 100 Washington Square East, to be precise, is an exhibition by Tseng Kwong Chi. Known for his self-portraits and photographs of New York's wild 70s and 80s scene, this promises to be a fabulous trip into New York's recent but so-different past.
"Combining photography with performance, personal identity with global politics, and satire with farce, Tseng Kwong Chi (1950-1990) created a compelling body of work whose complexity is belied by its humor and grace. Born in Hong Kong, raised in Vancouver, and educated in Paris, Tseng moved to New York in 1978, where he quickly became a key documentarian of Manhattan's vibrant downtown scene. He also began crafting the performative self-portraits - "selfies" avant la lettre - that form the backbone of his artistic practice, exploring the questions of personal and political identity that preoccupied many artists of his generation. Remarkably, Tseng made virtually all the works on view here in the course of just ten years, before his untimely death from AIDS-related complications at the age of 39."
Andy Warhol, New York, c. 1986
Keith Haring, New York, 1988
Bill T. Jones, body painted by Keith Haring, London, 1983
Boston-based super-shooter and lovely man Lou Jones will exhibit images from his important series "Portraits from Death Row." If you're in the Boston area you have two weeks to go see the exhibition. Jones photographed inmates on death row across the US, and a book was published in 1996. Emerson College hosts the show, at Huret & Spector Gallery.
At the other end of Lou's career, are his breathtaking photographs of dancers (among many, many other subjects). See his previous aCurator post and visit Lou's website.