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Category Archives: Contemporary Photographers

TXN_005Bill Daniel, “Black Flag w/Henry Rollins,” 1981


News coming off the wire from experimental filmmaker, tireless photographer, and American Romantic Bill Daniel:

Many readers of this blog are undoubtedly familiar with Who is Bozo Texino, Daniel’s mesmerizing documentary about the “secret society… of hobo and railworker graffiti.” The artist has just released a fine-looking portfolio of black and white fiber prints that showcase the rail drawings of Herby, The Rambler, Coaltrain, and Bozo Texino himself, in addition to a portrait of the elusive Colossus of Roads. The entire suite of prints, which Daniel dubs “Moniker,” runs for remarkable price of $250.

But wait, as the wise man once said, there’s more.

Moniker_portfolio_Coaltr001Daniel has also opened the archive to his classic Texas Punk Pioneers and Texas Skatepunks work from the early ’80s, which found the artist at basement and backyard shows for seemingly every important punk band of the era (Hello, young and skinny Henry Rollins. Aloha, Jello Biafra.), as well as poolside with skate legends like Jeff Phillips and Craig Johnson. I’ve geeked out on these photos many, many times, and I’m really excited that he’s selling 8×10 fiber prints of a lot of this work for $25. That’s crazy cheap, especially when the prints are being sloshed around stopbath and fixer under safelights, rather than rolling en masse off an inkjet printer. To check out these sweet pics, hit Daniel’s new print site, Tri-X-Noise.

Finally, this seems like the perfect time to mention that Daniel’s work appears in the new issue of Hamburger Eyes, which is evidently out now.

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Sara Vanderbeek, “The Principle of Superimposition 2,” digital C-print, 2008.


Unless my instincts are way off,  phot(o)bjects will undoubtedly be the most important photography show to hit the Northwest this summer (if not this entire year). On view at Lawrimore Project in Seattle through August 1, phot(o)bjects includes some of the most critical and forward-thinking voices in contemporary photography, including Walead Beshty, Trisha Donnelly, Roe Ethridge, Guyton/Walker, and Sara VanDerBeek, in addition to videos by Wolfgang Tillmans and Torbjørn Rødland. Organized by indie curator guru Bob Nickas for Presentation House Gallery in Vancouver, the work in the show appears to be largely sculptural, offered in response to Nickas’ query, “Beyond a carrier of an uninterrupted image, what else can a photograph be?”

I’m heading up to see the show later this week, and hope to secure a forum for a proper review of this important show. I will have a brief report of the show here in upcoming weeks, along with a few thoughts on the Gursky retrospective and Anthony Hernandez shows from earlier this month in Vancouver.

phot(o)bjects at Lawrimore Project, 831 Airport Way S.,  Seattle, through Aug 1


domesticated_24Amy Stein, “Riverside,” from the series Domesticated, digital C print


Most readers of this blog are surely familiar with Amy Stein’s fantastic photographic tableaux, and those who live in Portland have hopefully caught her current show at Blue Sky Gallery. I’m working on a proper review for the Oregonian, but thought I should break to spread the word about her upcoming artist talk on Saturday, Aug 1. In addition to the lecture, Stein will also be signing copies of Domesticated, which was published here in Portland via Photolucida’s Critical Mass. (Only three days left to apply for your own Critical Mass monograph!)

I saw a version of the Domesticated show in San Francisco last year, and despite the Blue Sky exhibition being unframed, the current incarnation is a stronger showing. I have no doubt that Stein’s talk will be equally smart and engaging.

Domesticated at Blue Sky Gallery, 122 NW 8th Ave, through Aug 2. Amy Stein artist talk Saturday, Aug 1, at 3 pm. Free.

In the past two or three months, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting three photographers who are fairly new to Portland, and are doing some very interesting things. Keep your eyes open for these talented artists:


Jennifer Boomer
of Dallas, TX and New York, NY: Hey Hot Shot Winner Fall ’07, currently in the Nymphoto Presents exhibition at Sasha Wolf Gallery.

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Lauren Henkin of Washington, DC: Current artist-in-residence at Newspace; preparing for June-July show at Camerawork Gallery. Henkin’s prints from Displaced: Part I, based on her self-imposed Nova Scotian exile, are astonishingly frank and beautiful.

Henkin

Blake Shell comes to PDX from Tucson, AZ, where she taught in the renowned UofA Photo Dept. Working with images and user-generated text culled from the internet, Shell frequently incorporates audio and video into her conceptual remixes of online culture. Also: make note of the blog!

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untitledImplosion_smJim Kazanjian, Untitled (Implosion), Archival Pigment Print, 2009


Aberrations, an exhibition of Jim Kazanjian’s hallucinatory photo-composites are on view at 23 Sandy through the end of the month. Kazanjian’s images are pretty amazing, and I was happy to pen a short essay about his work, which can be downloaded here (PDF). Aberrations is on view through Saturday, May 30.

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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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Doug Keyes, “Chuck Close,” 1999, dye destruction print


In recognition of the “unprecedented number of applications by photographers” to the 9th Northwest Biennial, the Tacoma Art Museum is hosting a five-hour extravaganza Saturday entitled Taking Pictures Through Multiple Lenses: Photography in The Biennial.

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Rebecca Cummins, who teaches at University of Washington and is a very interesting artist in her own right, will moderate a conversation between four Biennial photographers: Michael Kenna, Doug Keyes, Isaac Layman, and Susan Seubert. The lineup promises to be a compelling mix—the artists, all extremely good at what they do, each approach photography with very different conceptual and aesthetic attitudes.

l26Layman is incredibly bright and talented, as I’ve mentioned here before, and I was a fan of Keyes long before moving to the Northwest. (Keye’s recent monograph, Collective Memory, is fantastic, and from what I gather, the first printing is going fast.) Kenna’s work isn’t a personal favorite, but that’s about my tastes and preferences, not the merit of his photography.

maskHis relatively traditional approach to the medium, his exquisite attention to craft and technique, and his years of popular success should all nicely balance nicely the younger artists’ experimentation. Portland’s Seubert the wild card I’m curious about; some of her series, including “The Ten Most Popular Places to Dump a Body in the Columbia River Gorge” and “Chimeras” hold up really well and continue to impress me, but I wish more of her work had the same effect. (Actually, her editorial work knocks me out. If you want to see really well-done assignment work, look no further. I grew up around this kind of photography, and can’t help but stop in my tracks when I see it done so well.)

Taking Pictures Through Multiple Lenses: Photography in The Biennial
February 28, 11 am-4 pm

Submissions to The 9th Northwest Biennial saw an unprecedented number of applications by photographers. These numbers reflect the tremendous growth in this medium over the past decade. Historically, artists were bound by the limitations of film and equipment, but today many select from a myriad of technologies, processes, and tools.
Biennial artists Michael Kenna, Doug Keyes, Isaac Layman, and Susan Seubert participate in a half-day program discussing photography’s role in fine art and commercial imagery. Rebecca Cummins, Associate Professor at University of Washington School of Art, moderates a panel conversation.
Cost is $10 and includes museum admission; $5 for members and students with ID. Email Education@TacomaArtMuseum.org to reserve your seat.


Thumbnails, from top:

Isaac Layman, “Bookcase,” 2006, archival inkjet print
Michael Kenna, “Skyline, Study 3, Shanghai, China,” 2008, gelatin silver print
Susan Seubert, “Mask,” tintype

sleeping-beauty-16

One of my favorite books of the past year, Sleeping Beauty by John Sparagana (1, 2) and Mieke Bal, is at the center of an enviable launch party in Chicago Saturday afternoon. Corbett vs. Dempsey Gallery is hosting the official release, which is set to feature a short concert by Glenn Kotche. Best known as the drummer for Wilco, Kotche also performs and records as a solo percussionist; at the Sleeping Beauty event, he’s scheduled to perform two pieces by Minimalist composer Steve Reich. Sparagana’s work will be on view, and he’ll be there to sign books, but the press release I have encourages early arrival at this free event.

sleeping-beauty

Sleeping Beauty is the first publication in the Project Tango series from University of Chicago Press. Project Tango is described as “a new series of experimental collaborations between artists and writers,” and if future titles sport the creative integrity of the Sparagana + Bal pairing, they’ll quickly become essential acquisitions. [Disclosure Alert: I have known John for nearly a decade, and although we’ve never been close friends, we keep in touch sporadically, and I’m a longtime fan of his work. This mildly embarrassing piece I wrote in 2002 includes a short review of a great show he created that year for FotoFest.]

Having collaged, altered, and otherwise obscured images from popular magazines since the late 1990s, Sparagana has spent the past several years “distressing” images of desire, glamour, and wealth, as he dubs his signature technique. At its most reductive, “distressing” is another word for “crumpling,” but to call it that would be a gross oversimplification. Sparagana rubs, wrinkles, and weathers his carefully-chosen images until they’re as frail as ancient texts, and one imagines that they could turn the whole work or art to dust by breathing on it too hard. In the artist’s hands, the paper’s inky coating cracks into a dense latticework of crystallized webs, draping the original images in blankets of crackled gauze. As Mieke Bal writes in Sleeping Beauty, “The act of destruction is reiterated, so much so that, at some point, the sheet of paper becomes soft, voluptuous to the touch, flexible like a fabric such as satin. The image loses its predictable aspect. It becomes enigmatic, hard to read as what it was, novel and unheard of.”

sleeping-beauty-12While it’s tempting to read this process as a simple, if violent, metaphor for media critique, this interpretation doesn’t account for the countless hours of tender attention Sparagana spends on each work, nor does it address the erotic allure of his primary imagery. These elements are made clearer in later works, where the artist collages distressed images with their pristine orginals, creating—as Bal rightly points out—”interventions” in the manufactured seduction of the fashion spreads. These disruptions jolt our attention, scattering our attention onto three simultaneous fields of meaning: the glamorous pull of the original image; the fragile tactility of the distressed areas; and the startled awareness of the original’s complex visual and cultural coding. It becomes a visual experience whose closest analogy is the short moment when, awakening from a dream, one tries to fall back asleep so that the rewards and riches of our slumbering fantasties might manifest themselves completely.

Corbett vs. Dempsey, 1120 N. Ashland Ave. 3, Chicago

Saturday, January 31, at 4pm

barer_c-01Cara Barer, Houston, TX.
Projected winner of the 2008 Critical Mass book award.*




I just finished viewing 160 online portfolios for Critical Mass, the Portland-based competition that awards two to three photographers a year with swanky, fully-funded, widely-distributed monographs of their very own. Like a gaggle of pudenda-checking Westminster judges, 199 “of the world’s best curators, editors, and professionals,” along with myself, were given 10 images and an artist statement from each aspirant. A lively game of Hot or Not: The Roland Barthes Edition followed, with each photographer receiving a score of 0, 1, or 5.

It was, as with everything in life, a bon-bon hunt in Turd Hollow.

My criteria for evaluation is moderately pluralistic; it essentially boils down to “Keep the hoary clichés to a minimum.” In the course of looking through the portfolios, however, I noticed several other, subconscious evaluative measures:

  • If you photographed anyone who could be described as a “villager,” you almost certainly got a 0.
  • If your subjects were selected because they possess only four of the five senses, you almost certainly got a 0.
  • If you and I are friends, you got a 1. Call it the Great Nepotism Equalizer.®
  • If my first thoughts were either “Michael Kenna” or “Keith Carter,” you almost certainly got a 0.
  • If your work was mostly good, but looked like an Alec Soth outtake, you probably got a 1. (See you in the blogosphere.)
  • If I was compelled to enlarge all 10 of your jpegs, you got at least a 1.
  • People could be a lot more subtle with the Photoshop. Just saying.
  • I feel bad for photographers who make exactly one stunning image and nine unsuccessful attempts to bottle that same magic. I gave them all 1’s, to restore the symmetry.
  • Few phrases are as neutered and meaningless today as “politically correct,” yet it seemed entirely appropriate for a few of the treacly series I saw. Those were the only times I wished I could vote with negative integers.


These guidelines helped to trim a lot of the fat, although I disregarded a few of them more than once. Thankfully, we could vote for all the 5’s we wanted, and didn’t have to whittle it down to a top three. There were lots of 3’s and 4’s on my list—work that successfully avoided all the pitfalls listed above and stood firmly on its own merit—but if they weren’t honest, unqualified 5’s, they had to be lumped with the other, less remarkable 1’s.

The 21(!) artists I maxed out my voting privileges for all surprised me in one way or another—whether by turning a familiar convention on its head, or using techniques and strategies I typically don’t respond to and employing them so well I had to tip my hat. Plenty of the artists I reviewed know exactly what to do with their eyes and their equipment; the ones included here similarly know just what to do, but then shift everything a few degrees off-axis to create something disorienting and fresh.

In no particular order…

riedler_r-02Reiner Riedler, Vienna Austria. Vacation time in the era of simulacra.




abbott_j-08John Abbott, Irvine, CA. Neo-Modernist abstractions of power lines and communication towers.




lockwood_w-05Walter Lockwood, Los Angeles, CA. Sergio Leone flicks, performed by Asian American cast.




aaronson_j-06Jeffrey Aaronson, Santa Barbara, CA. Scenes from the US/Mexico border.




percher_e-05Eric Percher, Brooklyn, NY. Theatrical portraits of high-power young businessmen.




heller_r-05Robert Heller, Knoxville, TN. Birkenau concentration camp.




friedman_a-04Amanda Friedman, Hollywood, CA. Nocturnal landscapes, minus the usual banalities.




miller_g08Graham Miller, Fremantle, Australia. Edward Hopper meets Ray Carver in the land down under.




lampton_a-06Adam Lampton, Boston, MA. A sleepy Portugese colony is rapidly transformed into major gambling mecca.




sibilia_m-09Michael Sibilia, Hopewell Jct, NY. Remarkably vivid landscapes.




alleman_t-07Thomas Alleman, Los Angeles, CA. The only plastic camera work I’ve ever enjoyed.




brggemann_j-05Jörg Brüggemann, Berlin. The backpack/budget-tourism industry of Southeast Asia.




takemoto_h-10Hideki Takemoto, Hokaido, Japan. Memory and loss, rendered with Super8 camera.




cartagena_a-01Alejandro Cartagena, Monterrey, Mexico. Demolition landscapes in downtown Monterrey.




parisi_m-01Mary Parisi, Pacifica, CA. Wonderfully resuscitates the dormant genre of food photography.




plviranta_h-08Harri Pälviranta, Helsinki. Drunken, Finnish street fights. Enough said.




whittle_s-06Scott Whittle, Brooklyn, NY. Some of my favorite work. Scenes from Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.




kaufman_j-07Jessica M. Kaufman, Brooklyn, NY. Pastoralism and decay at Nazi concentration camps.




malone_a-02Alison Malone, Brooklyn, NY. Inside an elite, all-girl strain of the Masonic Youth secret society.




lancaster_l-10Lauren Lancaster, Abu Dhabi, UAE. Staff photographer of UAE newspaper depicts country’s complexities.




*My prediction of a Barer victory is purely speculative, based entirely on my wicked sooth-saying abilities. Here’s Barer on my olde blog.

I’ll skip the groveling and self-flagellation that usually follow stretches of blog blackout to say that paying gigs and personal sanity (rightfully) took priority over all of my passion projects, including That’s a Negative, although I remain dedicated to developing this site. The past six weeks or so found life too overcrowded for everything, so blogging had to take the backseat for a late summer break. (As did blog-reading; my Google Reader overfloweth.)

Out of necessity, my original goal of reviewing each of these shows was revised to the idea of having one long essay that somehow encapsulated all of the exhibitions. Unfortunately, that ship has already sailed. For the sake of wiping the e-slate clean and unshackling myself from the burden of reviews not yet written, here is a roll-call of everything I have intended to write about during this period of inactivity. In many cases, I really regret not being able to expound on my notes and thoughts, but I’d be working on this post until the Obama victory if I took the time to do so. I’m still on deadline and desperately short on time, but circumstances are conspiring to give me a little more blogging time very soon. Here, then, are the things I would have reviewed in a more perfect world.

In Portland:



Emi Anrakuji: IPY at Charles A. Hartman Fine Art




Andy O’Brien: “Star Maps: (l-r) Spike Jones, Nicolas Cage, Don Johnson” at Newspace’s Annual Juried Exhibition (Full disclosure: I bought the Nic Cage piece)




Melody Owen: Alexandria, I’m Waiting at Elizabeth Leach Gallery



In Seattle:



Isaac Layman: Photographs from Inside a Whale at Lawrimore Project. (My favorite show of the season; I must write about Layman soon.)




Gregory Blackstock: Vernacular Photography at Garde Rail




New Photo: Richard Barnes, Martin Klimas, and Fred Muram at Howard House (Fred Muram, “One Day I Will Learn to Build Things” pictured)




Ask a Banana, Baby: Swedish Contemporary Video and Photography at Howard House (Annika von Hausswolff, “A Given Moment in the History of Coming into Being” pictured)




Smoke & Mirrors at the Seattle Art Museum (through Nov 9)
A really well curated group show from the museum collection, exploring depictions of and experiments about ephemerality in photography, featuring Muybridge, Sugimoto, Nagatani, and many others. Titled for Eileen Quinlan’s photos of smoke and mirrors—many of which I like very much. (Quinlan, “Smoke & Mirrors #10″ pictured)




Mark Soo “That’s That’s Alright Alright Mama Mama,” c-prints, 3-D glasses, and angled wall at Western Bridge‘s You Complete Me



In San Francisco:



The Art of Lee Miller at SFMOMA (through Sept 14)




Double Exposure: African Americans Before and Behind the Camera at the Museum of the African Diaspora (Roy DeCarava, “Couple Dancing” pictured) (through Sept 28)




Amy Stein: Domesticated at Paul Kopeikin Gallery

Gillian Wearing, from Trauma, 2000


At 8:30 pm tonight, TJ Norris and I will present Masked Men and Virtual Identity, a rapid-fire meditation on deceit, camouflage, identity, cover-ups, and duality before the camera. It’s part of a Pecha Kucha hapening, described as “creative people talking about creative things,” wherein everybody shows 20 images and speaks on them for 20 seconds each. If you’re in town, I hope you can make it. The event flier can be seen here.

34 NW 8th (8th & Couch), 8:20 pm, sliding scale

Noel Rodo-Vankeulen, from the series Nocturne, 2007-8


Gentle readers,

My apologies for the leaden dearth of activity on That’s a Negative; freelance life is in overdrive at the moment, and I haven’t had the opportunity to compose anything substantial for the blog. My “to post” backlog is enormous, with half-written reviews of great shows in Portland and Seattle, previews of exhibitions in both of those cities, thoughts on several new books, and other tokens of photo-miscellany. Normal posting should return by next week; in the meantime, a few quick thoughts:

If you’re in Seattle, Isaac Layman’s show at Lawrimore Project is a must-see. There are a few aspects of the work I still harbor reservations about, but rarely do I have an ongoing mental argument with a show for this length of time. It’s as smart and bold as any gallery show I’ve seen in Seattle, and Layman is clearly an artist who has given the nature of photography a lot of consideration.

Next Tuesday, August 12, artist TJ Norris and I are co-presenting a mini-slide jam at a Pecha Kucha event, to be held at the corner of NW 8th & Couch. I’ve never been to one of these, but participants show 20 slides at 20 seconds apiece, so at eight presenters, it should be a wham-bam, visual overload of a free event. (Other participants include the project manager of Maya Lin’s Confluence Project; bike advocate Meghan Sinnott; and a former curator of the Harvard Film Archive.) TJ and I curated a jpegshow (formerly slideshow) that zigzags from Klansmen to Trekkies to hot air balloons. Hopefully we’ll figure out how to tie it all together by next week. (Event is Tues, Aug 12, 34 NW 8th, 7:30 pm [starts at 8:20], sliding scale.)

Noel Rodo-Vankeulen’s Nocturne series strike me as the antithesis of every tedious trend currently being played out in contemporary photography. I’ll defend my position soon enough, wishing all the while that I was able to check out his prints on view next week at Brooklyn’s Bond Street Gallery.

Lastly, what’s happening San Francisco? If a particular photo enthusiast were passing through in a week or two, what would said stalwart be foolish in missing? I’m planning on catching Amy Stein at Robert Koch; Double Exposure at the Museum of the African Disapora; RongRong at SF Camerawork; Lee Miller at SFMOMA; and perhaps Edwin Hale Lincoln at the deYoung. Have I missed anything fantastic?

Jim Lommasson, from the series On the Road, c. 2003


Photolucida’s Northwest Summer Portfolio Reviews—a smaller, localized version of the nonprofit’s biennial reviews—are happening in Portland this Saturday and Sunday, July 26-7. The reviews themselves are only open to registrants and reviewers, but a free event on Saturday night gives the public a chance to scope out all the artists who signed up for the reviews, as well as the work of 11 Oregon shooters selected by the Photolucida board. In addition to Jim Lommasson, keep your eyes open for these other invitees:

TJ Norris, “Rabbit Test on the Moon,” 2006


Alexis Pike, “A Teton, St. Anthony, Idaho,” 2004


David Paul Bayles, “Severed Limbs #1,” c. 2002


Bruce Hall, from the Portland Grid Project, 2006


Heidi Kirkpatrick, “Rose” from the series Botanical Photograms, 2005


Sika Stanton, untitled, tintype


Blake Andrews, from the series Big Pink, 2002


Ann Ploeger, untitled, c. 2005


Angela Cash, untitled, n.d.


Bob Gervais, untitled, n.d.


Photolucida’s Portfolio Walk happens at the Art Institute of Portland, NW Davis & 11th, Sat, July 26, 6-9 pm, free

Daniel Barron, “A Numb Hinge, #55,” digital c-print, 2008


A relentlessly cheerful treatise on grotesque post-human fantasies, Daniel Barron’s A Numb Hinge is one of the most provocative, sly, arresting, and sensual photography shows I’ve seen in Portland. In a remarkably conservative photography climate (local and national) that continues to favor “straight” photography (in color and with a 4×5, please), Barron’s abstract, digitally-assisted creations of fleshy pink cavities, wet eyelids, broken blood vessels, and bubbly glycerin tubes push the medium toward new aesthetic and technological territories.

The statement that accompanies A Numb Hinge indicates that technology is at the fore of Barron’s artistic concerns. But his interest isn’t in Photoshop’s ability to create fantasies that look, by all measure, strictly photographic, as his do. (I am not privy to how the images in A Numb Hinge were made, nor do I think it’s a particularly relevant question.) The artist is interested in the unemotional nature of scientific advance; how the beneficial effects of penicillin on bacterial infections and the destructive reactions of nuclear fission are, in and of themselves, entirely impersonal. Technology, by this way of thinking, can be seen as “an emotionally unresponsive, indifferent device on which subsequent events depend”—e.g., a “numb hinge,” which, unscrambled, reveals itself as “human being.”

Daniel Barron, “A Numb Hinge, #57,” digital c-print, 2008


Rarely, however, has cyborgian impassivity been so fun: If the soulless detachment of a post-human future has typically been imagined as fatalistic outcome, whether by Phillip K. Dick or Aziz + Cucher, Barron takes a different tact. A Numb Hinge envisions our fleshy future, in which bloodshot eyeballs occupy meaty knuckle sockets, as a consumerist idyll-a technological advance that can be beautified, photographed, and marketed like a Prada handbag.

“A Numb Hinge #55″ exemplifies Barron’s gleeful, pop aesthetic approach to these quasi-scientific, disquietingly graphic subjects. With unflinching verisimilitude, “#55″ depicts a fleshy object of Barron’s photo-digital creation: A human eyelid (though not attached to any larger skull), opens itself to accommodate a shimmering tube of ice, which slides into the orifice almost pornographically. (Pubic hair, however, has been replaced here by dew-y eyelashes, which are photographed with immaculate clarity.) The eye-socket aperture is presented as a cropped fragment of a larger whole that we can’t discern, although one can see that another similar eyehole exists at an unnatural 90 degree angle to the first, like a fleshy, pink, elbow joint. An un-readable attachment protrudes from the left side of the object, connected either by a honey-colored resin or a natural sap. “#55″ is a speculative vision of mad science at play-the human body as a purely mechanical system that can be genetically and physically adapted to accommodate oblique, inhuman purposes.

Daniel Barron, “A Numb Hinge, #52,” digital c-print, 2008


It’s not the subject matter that makes “#55″ so remarkable, however: It’s Barron’s treatment and presentation of the material. If and when the artist’s vision of all-out post-human anatomical modification is realized, we can be sure that the idea will be sold to us (subconsciously) as a technological advance capable of ensuring that we (a) never have to die, and (b) have a good shot at getting laid. The skin in “#55,” as in all of the pieces in A Numb Hinge, is flawlessly nubile—pink, blemish-free, unwrinkled flesh that evidently repels water so that it beads up and cascades off, like a Man Ray teardrop or an opaquely shellacked D’Anjou pear, coated in a light mist of water before the catalog photographer shoots it. Whatever they may graphically depict, the real messages of A Numb Hinge‘s body parts are “sex” and “youth.” If the throbbing penetration of the wet tube into the tight, slippery opening of “#55″ was too subtle for audiences, the small protrusion of a lapping, curved flesh-mound attends to the base of the shaft like a tiny tongue. (The bubbly, icy tube, all the while, looks like the sum manifestation of Wilson Bryan Key‘s hysteria about subliminal images erections and skulls allegedly being airbrushed into beverage advertisements in the 1970s.) If any doubt should linger about Barron’s advertorial approach, “#55’s” background of hazy, candy-colored stripes promises a bright, carefree future that carries the aesthetic hopes of both psychedelic transcendence and an afternoon of retail therapy at the mall.

Daniel Barron, “A Numb Hinge, #52,” digital c-print, 2008


These strategies recur throughout A Numb Hinge. “#52″ shows the “head” of a meaty flesh-worm, whose slippery surface is closer to the lining inside your mouth than the flesh on your palms. The center of the slimy, pink tube nestles a strange, flecked, yellow and green ball that could be both a citrus rind and a diseased eyeball. Repulsive on one hand, the form’s oozy tactility begs to be poked and fingered. In the background, we can make out slightly unfocused, similar forms, included in the photograph as if to assure viewers that scarcity is no issue, and that there’s enough for everybody, including you. As with many of Barron’s pieces, there is a large portion of the composition left mostly blank, which good editorial and commercial photographers know, is always appreciated by picture editors and art directors who need a spot to include the sales pitch.

Formally and technically, Barron’s attention to detail is meticulous. When one of his watery, glycerin tubes penetrates a bodily orifice, the tonal reflections of the skin are rendered in the bubbly with impeccable, rippley precision. These images withstand the closest scrutiny, and never betray their digital seams or in-camera trickery. The photographs’ uncanny realism is responsible for the squeamish response they invoke, but it’s the artists’ use of ultrasoft lighting and tender chromatics that make the images in A Numb Hinge so undeniably seductive. Barron’s beauty is of the repulsive variety, and he’s adept at teasing out the carnal elements of grotesquerie. These fantastic subjects may indeed be numb to the banalities of their own applications, but Barron is too deftly attuned to our propensity for novelty and our evolutionary mechanisms of desire to allow us to remain unmoved by the numb hinge of progress.

A Numb Hinge is on view at Pushdot Studio, 1021 SE Caruthers, Mon-Fri, through July 25.
Daniel Barron dot com

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