Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Show in Chicago

Over the past few weekends, I've been printing two of my new triptychs to send to a show at the Schneider Gallery in Chicago, IL. "A New Angle: Portrait Group Show" opens on May 14th and includes the work of Jowhara Alsaud, Jennifer Greenburg, Ursula Sokolowska, and myself. The show runs through July 3, 2010. I'll be present for the opening on Friday, May 14th and am also thrilled to have a few days to explore Chicago and see all of the art the city has to offer.

I'll be sending two images from my newest body of work, A Place so as to Stay, and I'm really looking forward to exhibiting these works full-size and seeing them on the wall. While I am nearly two years into this body of work, I am just beginning to make enlargements and see the images as I intended, in 3 separate 16" x 20" panels. Full size, the images come alive, and I can see all of the details I fell in love with in the first place.

Here's a little bit of the backstory for each image below:

Greg in his Cigar Shop, Little Rock, Arkansas, 2008

Greg is one of the first people I photographed for this body of work, when I was still figuring out what I was exploring by using triptychs and why I felt compelled to shoot in panels instead of a single frame. Having grown up in Little Rock, Arkansas, I go back often to see my dad, who still lives there. Since I was small, I have been going to the cigar shop with him to buy his cigars. His friends who worked there would always give me a wooden cigar box as a present, and to this day I have several of them. They sit on my desk and hold various silly things, and when I look at them I lovingly think of my dad and his cigar smoking buddies. In the shop, I always loved the smokey haze, the unmistakable smell of cigar smoke, and the trinkets on the shelves. I associate pipe and tobacco shops with odd little items from a time past: ivory carved canes, marble chess sets, various carved bears and fantasy metal dragons. Maybe it's just that particular cigar shop, but all cigar shops seem to have a special charm. In Greg's, there is a steady rotation of guys, and some women, sitting around a table full of ashtrays and hot coffee in foam cups, smoking the day away. I have always wanted to make a series of images in this place. Perhaps it is because it is a wonderful mixing pot of people, where your identity as a cigar smoker comes before any other previously defined category. You walk in and you feel like family.

Anyhow, back to the photo: last time I was in town, I called Greg and asked if I could make a photograph of him, and he generously agreed. As familiar as I am with this place, I was nervous- the dynamics change when you walk in with a 4" x 5." I should have known, though, that this was exactly the place for me and my wooden Wista. I photographed Greg in his walk-in humidor, halfway smoked cigar in hand, a smile on his face. I normally don't go for smiles, but with Greg it was so genuine I couldn't resist. I fell in love with his patterned shirt, his wonderful grey hair and beard, and his absolute commitment and dedication to being a cigar smoker and the lifestyle that accompanies it. That dedication and embodiment is what this project is all about. After I photographed him, we sat and talked for a long while, creating one of the best memories I have in that little cigar shop. I sent him a copy of the photo (via my dad) and I heard he put it up in the shop. I can't wait to go back and see.

Ted and Virginia, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2009

This photo of Ted and Virginia was taken at the Fogg Art Museum in 2009, a year after the building had closed to the public and shortly before the building was vacated by the staff. Ted is the Curator of American Art and Virginia is the Assistant Curator of American Art. In 2008 and 2009, I completed a series of photographs called A Moment Collected: Photographs at the Harvard Art Museum which included portraits of 37 staff members and approximately 50 still life images from throughout the museum. For most of my potraits, I approached people individually and asked to take their picture. Towards the end of the project, Ted approached me and asked if I would take a photograph of him and Virginia in their office, a wonderful little nook full of books up on the third floor, as a way to remember their time and space at the Fogg before the building was renovated.

Books are integral to any curator's work, but Ted is known for his massive collection of books. I decided to take a triptych of them reading, in addition to individual portraits which I used for the series and for my graduate thesis, and loved the way it came out. Though it was originally intended to be a part of the Fogg series, I moved it into A Place so as to Stay because it so perfectly fit the essence I was trying to capture. It was interesting when choosing which panels to include. During the exposure, I photographed both Ted and Virginia reading their book and looking at me. I toyed with having both of them look at me, which felt too posed, and also with having Ted look at me and Virginia looking at her book, which felt too male-dominant, somehow. I eventually chose to have Virginia looking at me (or the viewer) and Ted reading his book, which worked visually but also emotionally, capturing the essence of who I know these people to be.

It is amazing to me how quickly this image has become a memory of the past, with this office no longer existing. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to photograph these amazing people who are both wonderful scholars and interesting characters. It is a reminder that exciting pictures come sometimes when you least expect them to, or out of the spaces and experiences that seem so everyday.

I am looking forward to seeing these two images on the wall in Chicago!

Information about the show from the Schneider Gallery website:

A New Angle
Portrait Group Show
May 14 - July 3, 2010
Opening Reception: Friday, May 14
5:00 - 7:30 pm

The Schneider Gallery is pleased to present the work of four young artists, Jowhara AlSaud, Jess T. Dugan, Jennifer Greenburg, and Ursula Sokolowska. These exceptional women photographers all explore the power of the portrait.

The portrait is personal, and when effective, goes beyond depiction- it commands presence, it reveals the quality and character of the sitter. The portraits by AlSaud, Dugan, Greenburg, and Sokolowska allow us the unique pleasure to do more than look but to engage a world that we may otherwise not feel invited into. Each artist captures their subject with such ease and grace that we too feel to have an intimate relation with them. We do not see as a voyeur, rather as friend, confidant, or equal. We are welcomed to comfortably wander, even inhabit the frame.

Saudi Arabian artist Jowhara AlSaud works with purpose. She begins with images of daily life- snapshots of family and friends- and works subtractively, scratching into the emulsion of the negative itself. Through elimination she employs a visual language that reacts directly to the process of censorship.

Jess T. Dugan takes interest in identity and self definition. She explores how activities, collections, and place act as mirror to the self. Dugan both asks and answers the question- how are our passions, interests, and pursuits reflected in the environments we inhabit. A seemingly simple question is handled with sincerity, delight, and insight into the figures and the spaces illuminated.

Jennifer Greenburg explores the subculture of the American Rockabilly in frames that inherently have documentary quality, but work beyond the limits of the genre. The Rockabillies live within the parameters of mid-twentieth century America. Judgment, critique, and skepticism of those living this adopted lifestyle fall away; our engagement with the figures is both personal and direct.

Ursula Sokolowska’s latest work is subtle yet weighty. No removal exists between the viewer and subject. The immediacy and rawness of the individuals depicted allows for an instant contact with the space, charac-ter, and subsequent narrative. If we were not allowed to hide ourselves in shadow our meeting with the figures would almost be abrupt.

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