Dave Schubert, “Lips,” 2007, silver gelatin print
This morning I filed my short review of small A project‘s final Portland exhibition, the goofily named but otherwise fantastic Every Picture Tells a Story… Or At Least is a Picture. Curated by local art stars Chris Johanson and Jo Jackson (neither of whom are photographers themselves), Every Picture presents an exciting and challenging collection of photographs, almost all of which were new to me. There’s no clear central theme that runs through the show, and it feels like Jackson and Johanson took the liberty of spotlighting a dozen photographers whose work they really admire. It’s always fun when artists do this, but I had a hard time writing about the actual exhibition in 430 scant words, so I thought I’d turn to the web instead. Every Picture introduced me to a slew of photographers I was unfamiliar with, so I thought I’d pass the introductions on, along with a few notes from my gallery visit.
“Lips,” by Dave Schubert (pictured above), competed with an untitled Terry Richardson for the outstanding stand-alone photo award. (More on Richardson later.) Schubert occupies that fourth-generation Nan Goldin zone of seedy lifestyle photography, wherein photographs of sex acts, drug consumption, and beautiful losers mingle with occasional still-lives and landscapes. Most are forgettable, but “Lips” shines like a full moon on a cloudy night: appearing briefly like a noir-ish mirage of lust and romance, before being swallowed back into the darkness. Curiously, the 16×20″ silver gelatin print is unique, so there’s no chance of scooping one up cheaply down the line.
Elieen Quinlan, “Smoke & Mirrors #13,” 2005, UV laminated chromogenic print mounted on Sintra
Eileen Quinlan was represented by three photographs from her “Smoke & Mirrors” series, which actually works better for me in jpeg format than in person. The concept is simple: Basing her abstractions on the two fabled ingredients of trickery and deception, Quinlan made hundreds of photographs of those two malleable, unfixed elements: smoke and mirrors. Her larger black and white prints of razor-sharp lines, tonal gradations, and wafty hazes recall Jan Groover’s formal commitment to abstracting sporks and cereal bowls, as well as certain elements of Eastern and Central European Modernism. As if to demonstrate the “nothing up my sleeve” aspect of the work, Quinlan accentuates the small flaws in her work by touching up the white areas with black SpotTone (sure to make all photo purists convulse in agony). I’d like these better if they actually looked a little nicer, but the smaller emerald green print is the only one that didn’t look like a half-finished darkroom experiment. (To be fair, Google turns up some examples that appear stronger than what was on view in Portland.)
Deanna Templeton, “Your Logo Here,” 2004-7, silver gelatin print
Husband and wife team Ed and Deanna Templeton each exhibited recent work. Ed, a renowned pro skater, dresses up his otherwise forgettable black-and-whites of friends and skaters by brushing the white borders of his prints in a thin, melon-colored wash, and illustrating them with tiny doodles and calligraphic captions. These decorative elements add a nice graphic element and narrative context to the photographs. (e.g. A caption that reads, “After skating 7 miles in the humid Chicago stank—then drinking a gallon of some ‘sport drink’—Mark suffered heat exhaustion and barfed,” is penned above a photo of a heavy, shirtless guy who looks like he’s about to pass out from heat exhaustion.) The photographs themselves, however, wouldn’t make the grade in a senior level critique, so no amount of doodling could save them.
Deanna‘s Your Logo Here photos proved far more interesting, although they’d benefit from a subtler touch on the titling. Her b&w group portraits of bikinied teens at surf and skate competitions were startling in their documentation of sexual and commercial exploitation. Templeton’s photos focus on the trend of body logos, in which corporations stencil or tag their logos onto girls’ bodies, transforming them into leggy, tanned, human billboards. The girls’ stomachs, thighs, chests, and arms are emblazoned with websites and advertising graphics, but they’re hardly paid models: This is a popular activity for this generational subculture, who is wracked at once with hypersexual bombardment and debilitating body issues; unprecedented disposable income but a blind spot for viral marketing of unprecedented sophistication. To make matters more complex (I’m going to speak carefully here), it’s the young women’s bodies that give Templeton’s photographs their initial appeal. These pictures drew me across the gallery faster (and more subconsciously) than Quinlan’s abstractions or AA Bronson‘s doughy body shots because (duh) sex sells. Admirers of the female body will have a hard time not objectifying the barely-covered teens bodies, which are instinctively posed in stances and gestures learned from millionaires and models. Templeton, perhaps unwittingly, puts the viewers in an uncomfortably implicit position, while capitalizing on the adolescents’ exhibitionism as she tsk-tsk’s companies for getting the ball rolling. By the time I spotted the ripe appendectomy scar on one of the teenage girls (a classic “punctum,” to channel Barthes), I was relieved to have a safe zone where I could comfortably land my eyes.
Donal Mosher, “Electrical Manifestation 4,” 2005, c-print
I don’t have too much to say about Donal Mosher‘s photographs except that they look like shining examples of the Tiny Vices aesthetic: an off-the-cuff stylishness that exudes raw, youthful talent, but feels too trendy to be entirely substantial. I certainly didn’t dislike Mosher’s c-prints, but they were way too familiar to get excited about. On the other hand, this photo and the one seen above continue to bounce around my head. I clearly need to see more of and think further about Mosher’s work. (There are worse impressions with which to leave audiences…)
Laura Heyman, “Untitled (The Photographer’s Wife),” 2005, c-print
Laura Heyman‘s self-portrait series is sort of a one-shtick pony, but it’s the kind of work that university instructors and mid-level curators go ga-ga over. Titled The Photographer’s Wife, the series depicts Heyman in various guises and poses from photo history that many will revel in sleuthing out. Spoofing the standard portrayals of women (reluctant muse, fatigued seductress, maternal wonder, pensive den mother) by their photographer husbands (diCorcia, Callahan, Shore, Friedlander), Heyman convincingly acts out all the parts, the only twist being… she’s the photographer!!!! Not exactly a transcendent premise, is it? Rest assured, though: When a mid-sized art center wants to do a show about photographers who are re-imagining art history, or subverting the male gaze, or putting conceptual twists on self-portraiture, or having anything with the word “reconsidered” in the titles, Heyman will be there.
Leigh Ledare, “FIRE. Sexy, beautiful WF, dominant wants a very willing submissive who understands his place, for creative + complicated discreet play. Tribute. Ext. #6795,” 2007, c-print
Leigh Ledare‘s collaborative self-portraiture stole the show in my eyes: I didn’t know Ledare’s work, although he’s evidently something of a big deal these days, with a brand new book out and a handful of impressive projects under his belt. Best known for his extended psycho-sexual portrait of his mother, who seems to perpetually exist in an extended midlife crisis and exhibition reinvention of her own sexuality, Ledare took a foray into self-portraiture as he searched the personal ads for something of a surrogate mother. Selecting sexually suggestive, older women from the personals, Ledare commissioned these “buxom,” “unconventional,” “sensuous,” and “50-ish” women to photograph him in their apartments, any way they wished. Most of the shots, which are named for the ads the women placed, range from suggestive to erotic, but their power comes from the domestic clues we gather from the women’s apartments. The collection of Care Bears, the framed photo of a fat man in a hot tub, the Roy Lichtenstein poster on the wall all conspire with Ledare’s hard-ons, bedroom eyes, and S&M gear to create double portraits of the participants (as well as questioning notions of authorship and upending the male gaze). Katy Grannan took a parallel approach years ago by asking her subjects (whom she found by placing ads for nude models) to select their own environments and poses for her portraits. The engrossing results were more technically finessed than Ledare’s, but since Ledare is working with this model of bedroom erotica, anything more would have felt overly artificial. Ledare was definitely Every Picture‘s most interesting artist, and I’m definitely going to keep him on my radar.
Finally—Terry Richardson. I will take the remarkably popular/unpopular stance of admitting my admiration for Terry Richardson’s photographs. I understand that they’re hipstery, coke-y, vapid snapshots of titilating sleaze, but I’ll need a better argument than that to disavow them. Nobody does the genre better, and his photos never fail to stop me in magazines. Unfortunately, they don’t hold up so well in art galleries, I discovered, as my expectations and standards are higher when I enter white cubes than they are when I’m sitting in a waiting room. Framed on the wall, the two untitled Richardsons seemed kind of pathetically needy, as if the guy with the encyclopedic knowledge of dirty jokes couldn’t keep his mouth shut for one minute while the rest of us tried to speak.
That being said, his grainy pic of a rapidly maturing redhead in purple spandex, spreading her legs for the camera with a huge Colgate smile, is one of the most remarkable photographs I’ve seen in months. I’m not particularly proud to admit that; I’d rather have written that last sentence about Albert Renger Patzsch, but the beauty of art is that is doesn’t always take you where you had planned to go. I’m also not proud of the amount of time I spent trying to track down a jpeg of the untitled image to no avail, as you could rest assured that it would have been the lead image on this post, and it would have been the most beloved and provocative photo posted so far on this blog. Like I said, that sentiment would have a little more dignity if it was attached to a Meyer and Pierson albumen print, but I’ve got to raise my glass to Terry Richardson, who managed to outshine a gallery full of serious/quality artists with a dully composed snapshot of an exceptionally fit grandmother in a violet unitard. Kudos to you, Mr. Richardson.
Every Picture Tells a Story… Or At Least is a Picture, small A projects, 1430 SE 3rd, Thurs-Sat, closes (forever) June 28