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Monthly Archives: March 2009

timlee5-10-1

Tim Lee, “Untitled (James Osterberg, 1970),” C-print, 2004


GLOOMY SKIES MAKE GREAT SOFTBOXES
NORTHWEST PHOTOGRAPHY NOW

A Presentation by Chas Bowie

PNCA • 1241 NW Johnson, Portland OR
Wednesday, March 18, 2009 • 12:30 pm

In Gloomy Skies Make Great Softboxes, Portland art critic Chas Bowie surveys the state of contemporary Northwest photography, assessing the work of regional artists who are actively cultivating new photographic idioms and avenues of exploration.

The Pacific Northwest has a longstanding and multi-faceted engagement with photography, as evidenced in part by the legacy of Portland’s Blue Sky Gallery; Seattle’s acclaimed Monsen Collection; and Vancouver BC’s concentration of noted “photoconceptualists.” These disparate traditions are not only well-documented, but markedly at odds with one another, rendering any Northwest photography “scene” more compartmentalized than unified.

As the demographic makeup of the Northwest shifts, however, so too does the application of photography in the fine arts. Gloomy Skies Make Great Softboxes demonstrates how emerging artists such as Isaac Layman (Seattle), Andrew O’Brien (Eugene), and Holly Andres (Portland) are transcending regional aesthetic trends and moving toward an increasingly progressive and critical mode of image-making.

peterbrown4lPeter Brown, “Snapping Turtle Sunning on the Road, Sand Hills, Nebraska,” C print, 2005


The Fall/Winter issue of SPOT arrived today, sporting a cool cover from emerging Houston artist Ariane Roesch. The Houston Center for Photography‘s twice-yearly mag is a critical and sentimental favorite, so I’m pleased to be included in the new issue with a review of Peter Brown and Kent Haruf’s collaborative ode to the High Plains,  West of Last Chance. The review has been added to the Selected Writings section of this site, but I encourage everyone to hunt down an actual copy of this handsome photography magazine for themselves.

While West of Last Chance never set off to be an encyclopedic record of the region (the Midwest’s penitentiaries, army bases, cookie-cutter suburbs, and migrant workers are among the absent), Brown and Haruf depict a sort of lyric taxonomy in their subjects: Hand-painted signs, pickup trucks, superhighways and gravel roads, Wal-marts, grain elevators, crosses, high school mascots, diners, swallows, post offices, cattle, and mechanics all coalesce into an ambiguous geography of unequivocal alone-ness. In one lonely Nebraska highway scene, Brown presents a suitcase-sized tortoise, camouflaged by the baked sandy asphalt of the roadway he paddles across, like a holdover apparition from the Plain’s Paleolithic era.

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