Monday, May 26, 2014

Victoria Crayhon

Victoria Crayhon uses photography and video to address issues of personal identity and desire existing within the framework and ideology of social, commercial and/or technological realms. She received an MFA in Photography from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1997. She graduated from Tisch School of the Arts, New York University with a BFA in Photography in 1994. 

Victoria’s work has been exhibited, published and collected both internationally and throughout the United States. Her work has been featured in publications such as British Journal of Photography, the Christian Science Monitor, Fraction Magazine, La Journal de la Photographie, Fade to Black, Art/Photo Magazine, and the New York Times. It is also included in museum, corporate and private collections, among them The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Harvard/Fogg Art Museums, and Citigroup in NYC. Her projects have been exhibited in solo and group shows in New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, Providence, and Vladivostok in the Russian Federation. 

Recent grants include a Fulbright Scholarship in 2011 and The 2011 Aaron Siskind Fellowship in photography from Rhode Island State Council of the Arts. Victoria is an Associate Professor of Photography at the College of Visual and Performing Arts at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. Victoria is based in Providence, RI.

Thoughts on Romance from the Road

Thoughts on Romance from the Road is an ongoing project that uses photography to document text interventions on roadside marquee signs. I place phrases on movie and motel marquee signs, many of which I find through research but also in the course of my frequent long distance travel by car. I use my own sign letters and then leave the scene with the words left intact upon the sign. Before I depart, I make a photograph from the sidewalk or roadside. I then make large-scale color prints as documents of the sign in its environment. The photograph becomes the sole remnant of the project as the letters inevitably disappear or are taken down. The work addresses the effect of media and technology upon human memory and desire.

In its brief existence, each sign installation is read by an audience comprised mostly of people in cars or by roadside foot traffic. The experience of the viewer seeing the work in the context of the outside world of roads, signs and billboards is important to me. I am interested in viewers encountering my work in spaces they expect to see advertising or propaganda. The text phrases are the voice of an individual, deliberately personal yet sounding mysteriously familiar through the fragmented vernacular used within the spectacle of advertising. I use language that references aspirations toward contentment and fulfillment linked to promises of desire and romance provided by the realm of commodity and
entertainment. My texts are formulated to read as regurgitations of that, as though they are public diary entries pertaining to banal realities of self and relationships based on comparison with an ideal.

In a gallery space the work is presented as large color prints and looped video documentation of the installations of the signs that existed in public for a limited period of time.

Whether or not an altered sign lasts out in the world for longer than a few days depends
upon who owns the property where each sign is located. Whenever possible I obtain
permission, if I can locate a property owner. If I cannot do so I will most likely use it
anyway, knowing that the installation could be more short-lived than in the opposite case.

But I never know precisely what will happen or how long the installations will remain intact.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Ashley Whitt

Ashley Whitt is a fine art photographer whose work deals with themes of duality within the self, psychological states, and mortality. She uses a variety of photographic techniques including dass transfers, digital manipulation in Photoshop, sculptural bookmaking, and traditional darkroom processes. Ashley is a Texas native and currently resides in Denton.

Ashley graduated from Texas Woman's University where she earned her MFA in Photography in 2012. She graduated from UT Arlington with a BFA in Photography in 2009. Ashley currently adjuncts in the Dallas/Fort Worth area for Dallas County and Collin County Community Colleges. Her work has been shown locally, nationally, and internationally including Texas, Vermont, California, China, and India.

Project Statement: The Haunted Mind

''In the depths of every heart, there is a tomb and a dungeon, though the lights, the music, and revelry above may cause us to forget their existence, and the buried ones, or prisoners whom they hide. But sometimes, and oftenest at midnight, those dark receptacles are flung wide open. In an hour like this, when the mind has a passive sensibility, but no active strength; when the imagination is a mirror, imparting vividness to all ideas, without the power of selecting or controlling them; then pray that your griefs may slumber, and the brotherhood of remorse not break their chain.''

            - Nathanial Hawthorne, "The Haunted Mind" from "Twice Told Tales", 1851

The Haunted Mind is a body of work that addresses themes of duality, anxiety, and mortality. When my mother passed away five years ago, I became consumed by depression and anxiety. These images are visual representations of the fears and anxieties that exist within myself. Multiple figures inhabit the frame to depict internal conflicts and the duality that exists within the self. Inspiration for the series comes from literature, film noir, nightmares, and an obsession with death. The images are primarily created in wooded areas and isolated landscapes in order to visually depict the unconscious mind.

Using digital manipulation, multiple figures are montaged within each landscape to convey anxiety and duality within the self. The images are printed onto Dass transfer film and are transferred onto Stonehenge fine art paper. The transfer allows for manipulation, which can blur or distort parts of the image. This distortion created during the transfer process creates an ethereal, dreamlike aesthetic that alters the sense of reality in each image. The finished pieces are one of a kind and cannot be replicated.

Monday, May 12, 2014

"What’s going on with Photography" By Carl Gunhouse

Alec Soth, 2013
My knowledge of art history and theory can be spotty at times, so bear with me. I understand the “Death of Painting” to be a point in the late 70’s when art folks believed everything that could be done in painting had been done and maybe Clement Greenberg had broken something. It occurs to me that contemporary photography is in the same place painting was after it was declared dead. Where any early division within or expectations for photography have eroded and anything is possible. In an attempt to deepen my understanding of the “Death of Painting”, I started in on some reading, and even a cursory internet search will point out that the “Death of Painting” apparently has been going on since the mid 1930’s to as late as 2012, when Roberta Smith can be found in The New York Times reassuring readers that the claims of painting’s death have been greatly exaggerated[1]. I did eventually stumble onto an essay by The Nation’s long-time art critic Arthur Danto, who in the 90’s gave voice to my understanding of a 70’s era end point to painting.

“The seventies was a decade in which it must have seemed that history had lost its way. It had lost its way because nothing at all like a discernible direction seemed to be emerging. If we think of 1962 as marking the end of abstract expressionism, then you had a number of styles succeeding one another at a dizzying rate: color-field painting, hard-edged abstraction, French neo-realism, pop, op, minimalism, arte povera, and then what got to be called the New Sculpture, which included Richard Serra, Lynda Benglis, Richard Tuttle, Eva Hesse, Barry Le Va, and then conceptual art. Then what seemed to be ten years of nothing much. There were sporadic movements like Pattern and Decoration, but nobody supposed they were going to generate the kind of structural stylistic energy of the immense upheavals of the sixties. Then all at once neo-expressionism arose, in the early eighties, and gave people the sense that a new direction had been found. And then again the sense of nothing much so far at least as historical directions were concerned. And then the dawning sense that the absence of direction was the defining trait of the new period, that neo-expressionism was less a direction than the illusion of one. Recently people have begun to feel that the last twenty-five years, a period of tremendous experimental productiveness in the visual arts with no single narrative direction on the basis of which others could be excluded, have stabilized as the norm.”[2]

Peter Galassi, MoMA, 1991
I do love “then the dawning sense that the absence of direction was the defining trait of the new period.” To Danto’s credit he almost acknowledges that being in the here and now makes for bad history and the function of art history is to wait and see, which artists and narratives have an effect on generations removed. So with that I throw my hat into the ring, and attempt to talk about what is going on in contemporary photography. Having come up as undergrad in the mid 90’s, I can still remember stories from faculty of the contentious rise of conceptualism and set-up photography in the 80’s. Or to quote Michael Kimmelman’s review of Galassi’s “Pleasure and Terrors” show, “The 80's also witnessed a deep split in the field of photography. On the one hand were the modernists who upheld the notion of documentary or candid images. On the other hand were the post-modernists who, in borrowing images from mass culture and in putting forth contrived and manipulated photographs, both challenged photography's role in shaping social conventions and cast doubt on the credibility of the medium itself.”[3] A split which in legend took on a heightened moral value in which friends stopped talking to friends over the value of manipulating the reality in front of the camera. When leaving for grad school I even remember my undergrad professors only half jokingly telling me that if I returned staging pictures of taxidermy in my basement (a direct jab at the high priest of staged photography Gregory Crewdson) they would disown me. 

Gregory Crewdson, Natural Wonder, 1992-97
I started the Yale MFA program in photography in 2001 and the success of the Yale Girls was at a high and Crewdson was at the peek of his fame. But it was refreshing to learn that most of my classmates had no strong affinity for set-up photography and none of them showed any interest in arguing over the value of straight vs. set-up photography. I felt as Danto described that the old battles were done, the avant-garde of post-modernism, or conceptualism was now a part of the foundation of our education. Roni Horn and Gregory Crewdson were no longer rebels, but on our critique panel, at a leading Ivy League art program. They were no longer the future. But there was no real feeling as to what might come next or even where exactly things were going. It was a moment as Danto described in the transformation between modern and contemporary art, which had “begun insidiously, without slogan or logo, without anyone being greatly aware that it had happened.”[4]

Alec Soth, Sleeping by the Mississippi, 2000
But in retrospect, in 2004, a year after I had graduated with an MFA and still making very straight photographs, stuff had started happening. Alec Soth had his first solo show in New York at Yossi Milo Gallery when they were still a tiny space upstairs across the street from Gagosian Gallery. Later in the year Soth was in the Whitney Biennial, and the following year the work from his solo at Yossi Milo was up across the street at Gagosian, the largest gallery in the world. It was shocking that the art world was wildly embracing an artist making straightforward pictures, which look a lot like Joel Sternfeld. If the mainstream galleries could champion a traditional straight photographer, it was certainly a sign that all things photographic were possible and traditional photography could be contemporary and relevant. Photographers just had to make visually engaging pictures of compelling subject matter. Soth’s work was what photography had always been, going into the world, stopping it, and framing it in a way that said something about the artist and their relationship to the world around them.

Roe Ethridge on the cover of Artforum, 2003
In 2005, when Alec Soth was legitimizing straight photography, Roe Ethridge had already graced the cover of Artforum, going on his third show at the hip and prestigious Chelsea Gallery Andrew Kreps. With a show that if I recall it correctly involved a lot of pictures of strip mall signs listing stores. At the time I was intrigued by the quality of his image making, but perplexed as to what the work was about. Even Frieze described the work in terms of a dated modernist vs. post-modernist struggle over the value of objectivity “their cumulative effect suggestive rather than illustrative of his fundamental inquiry into our ready assumption that photography will tell us something true.”[5] Slowly but surely Ethridge’s work bored its way into my head and I eventually asked Tim Davis, a mutual friend, what Ethridge’s work was about. Davis described him as a working stock photographer, who was trying to justify his trade as an artistic medium. A task that he has certainly pulled off with ease, by essentially curating shows of his own vernacular photographs. Pictures that were unquestionably well crafted, but often superficial, with varying styles and subject matter that were added one next to the other until they made a weird sense, at their best they described a place or moment in history. I took a group of intro to photography students to the Ethridge’s break out Rockaway show and they seemed to immediately get that he was describing a working class beach community. Because at its core Ethridge is making very complex art that works best when you don’t think to hard.

Roe Ethridge
Over the past decade Soth and Ethridge have become ubiquitous; both appeared in the Whitney Biennial (2004 and 2008 respectively), both showed at Gagosian (Chelsea and Beverly Hills respectively) and both have published numerous books while maintaining high-profile professional careers in editorial (Soth with a Sunday Times Magazine cover) and commercial (Ethridge with a W fashion spread) photography. While neither has received a high profile museum show, it seems to be only a matter of time. By any standard they have been the most successful photographers of the last decade, spawning a photographic approach that can be spotted in a generation of photographers like Christian Patterson, Daniel Shea, Joshua Lutz, Greg Halpern and countless recent MFA shows. This style of work is a hybrid of Soth’s traditional narrative style, where the picture contains a clear well crafted idea, and Ethridge’s free-form editing, where placing a vernacular image next to a large format landscape, next to a black and white snapshot, next to a drawing, is all fair game and hopefully creates meaning.

Alec Soth, Sleeping by the Mississippi, 2002

Roe Ethridge, Le Luxe, 2011

What is fascinating about their rise is that Ethridge and Soth have been able to be very successful without butting heads or creating opposing camps of thought. Hell, at Paris Photo Los Angeles the two sat down to a public conversation where they came off as low-key, bearded, white men who very much liked each other’s work. If Thomas Friedman got anything right with his book The World Is Flat it was that the inter-connectedness of the digital age has leveled our culture. The art world has become so widely dispersed that there can no longer be a king maker, a namer of things like Clement Greenberg. Platforms to talk about and see art are so numerous and accessible it is no longer so much a back and forth of competing ideas as a number of people speaking at the same time, so it is nearly impossible for any one idea to gain traction, creating an environment where Ethridge and Soth never had to compete for the same wall space or even the same eyes. The old battles are dead. Photography is in a post-partisan age where all things are possible and acceptable. Of course as I write this Soth and Ethridge have already become passé for people younger than myself who have already moved on to Lucas Blalock’s playing around with photoshop or a hundred other people I am too old to have even heard of, and maybe ten years from now it all be even clearer what was important. But I'll call it, Alec Soth and Roe Ethridge are who will be remembered of photography from the last decade (and possibly a harder to define multi-headed beast of abstract photography that I feel less equipped to try and parse).

[1] Roberta Smith, “Like Watching Paint Thrive” The New York Times, June 28, 2012
[2] Arthur C. Danto, After the End of Art (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997)
[3] Michael Kimmelman, “Joys and Terrors On the Home Front” The New York Times, September 27, 1997
[4] Arthur C. Danto, After the End of Art (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997)
[5] Megan Ratner, “Roe Ethridge” Frieze Magazine, March 2006

Essay by Carl Gunhouse, 2014 

Monday, May 5, 2014

"Here and Now: Queer Geographies In Contemporary Photography" Curated by Rafael Soldi

Richard Renaldi

Rafael Soldi curated the upcoming exhibition, Here and Now: Queer Geographies In Contemporary Photography, at Silver Eye Center for Photography, opening on May 15th, 2014. 

Rafael Soldi is a Peruvian­-born, Seattle-­based photographer and independent curator. He holds a BFA in Photography & Curatorial Studies from the Maryland Institute College of Art. Soldi has helped curate exhibitions at Farmani Gallery, Wilgus Gallery, MICA, Silver Eye Center for Photography, and Photographic Center Northwest, where he is the Marketing Director. Soldi’s photographs have been exhibited and published internationally at the Frye Art Museum, American University Museum, Griffin Museum of Photography, Greg Kucera Gallery, Connersmith, Emory University, PCNW, Vertice Galeria, and G. Gibson Gallery among others. He is a 2012 Magenta Foundation Flash Forward Award Winner, 2014 Puffin Foundation grant recipient, and his work is in the permanent collections of the Tacoma Art Museum, Frye Art Museum, and the King County Public Art Collection, among others.

We Are the Youth

Ashley Kauschinger: Tell us about the exhibition “Here and Now: Queer Geographies In Contemporary Photography” How did your ideas form? How did it come together?

Rafael Soldi:
When I was approached by Silver Eye to curate an exhibition on queer photography my initial instinct was to decline. All too often we see survey exhibitions that place works by queer artists in one room simply because the artists are queer, with no regard to other paramount aspects in the work. This practice prevails as well with women and artists of color, to name a few. What these problematic exhibitions promote is the idea that not only can queer art only be seen alongside other queer art, but that all there is to it is its queerness. It makes an assumption that all artists of the same gender, race or orientation must only exhibit in those contexts, and it is not any different than putting on an exhibition about artists with brown hair, or artists who are tall, for example. As I look around me—as a queer person, artist, and curator—I see peers making work of incredible complexity and depth. Many of them are exploring queerness in their work, but they do so in infinitely different ways. Some of the work, in fact, is so different that even in their shared exploration of queerness they don't go hand-in-hand. To dilute work by queer artists to simply “queer” disregards the multidimensionality of their practice and the conceptual framework of their work. For this reason, I chose to accept the challenge to present an exhibition of queer work so long as I was able to present it in a context that defines it as other than “just queer.” I began by thinking about relevant queer artists in my immediate and extended community whose work has made an impact on me. Then I asked myself: save from being queer, what underlying themes and conceptual threads run through these projects that make them so successful? What approaches are queer artists using today and how can we use this to trigger discourse around queerness in more meaningful ways?

Elle Perez
AK: What was your thought process behind choosing each artist? How do they each inform the overall theme of the exhibition?

I started to notice themes and groupings of artists with a shared approach to exploring queerness that, when put together, painted a more complex view on the subject by giving us a different context through which to consider it. One that stood out to me was mobility, the idea of journeys and surveying the physical and emotional landscape in search for a bigger picture, for a narrative, for a sense of place and connectedness. Oscar Wilde once said 'A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realization of Utopias.' A search for Utopia is particularly significant for queer subjects who have spent a lifetime imagining the world other than as it is. In this exhibition images become the spaces where new maps are imagined and created, they helps us map our own place within a larger territory as we define what it means to be queer today. 

Molly Landreth
Molly Landreth presents a 7-year journey through rapidly changing communities across America to offer brave new visions of what it means to be queer in America today. Elle Perez also takes on a countrywide journey to document queer Diasporas, but her photographs draw attention to the often unspoken and undocumented space between genders. Michael Max McLeod has photographed over 200 adult video arcades throughout America, utilizing a voyeuristic tool—the camera—to photograph an architecture of voyeurism. McLeod’s images reveal circumstantial worlds that exist entirely in the dark, proving why adult video arcades still exist in the internet era. Richard Renaldi’s Hotel Room Portraits offer a glimpse into the artist’s life on the road. His images are not only a record of intimacy and journal of his travels with his partner Seth, but also an affirmation of their commitment to one another over the span of over fifteen years. 

Zackary Drucker’s work complicates established binaries of viewer and subject, insider and outsider, and male and female in order to create a complex image of the self. Drucker’s video work Lost Lake posits beauty and fear as inextricable from the psyche of the American landscape. Contemplative moments and stunning vistas are jarringly punctuated with the vocabularies of witch-hunts, hate crimes and psychological violence. We Are the Youth (Laurel Golio & Diana Scholl) and #1 Must Have (Adrien Leavitt & A. Slaven) are both artist teams working on photographic journalism projects that chronicle the individual stories of queer people. We Are the Youth focuses on addressing the lack of visibility of LGBTQ young people by providing a space to share stories in an honest and respectful way through portraiture and storytelling. #1 Must Have re-frames the queer experience outside of the victim paradigm often seen in popular culture and presents their subject through contemporary vernacular such as zines, tumblr sites, community exhibitions, and queer dance parties.

Richard Renaldi
AK: What is your prospective on how LGBTQ artists are portrayed in the contemporary art world? What does your exhibition contribute or dispute in that conversation?

RS: We are very lucky to live to witness a major shift in our politics, even when there is still a monumental amount of work to do. Any time that progress comes about it sheds light on both the best and worst of humanity, and we are certainly witnessing both. We have made major strides towards equality (in the U.S.) and that is the direction we are heading, I am certain of it. It is far from perfect but as Wilde said, progress is the realization of Utopias! The art world's relationship to queer subjects is fascinating, and a very closeted one. Queerness has been accepted within the arts community for a very long time, but the same cannot be said for arts institutions, who bear the responsibility of disseminating art to the masses. There is a long and robust lineage of queer artists—and not just any artists, major figures in the history of art. But you wouldn’t know it because museums, textbooks and survey courses have only recently begun examining this dimension of art history, even though sexuality is a fundamental aspect of movements like Pop Art. 

Michael Max McLeod
Our institutions (i.e. museums and foundations) have shamelessly re-written history right in front of our eyes to tell a story that was more convenient to them. For example, consider these statistics in the context of the monumental role that queer people have played in New York’s art and civic history; there are 8 major museums in New York City:

• The Museum of Modern Art has less than 3% of gay art in its collection
• The Metropolitan has less than 1.5%
• The New York Historical Society has never used the words gay or lesbian

Some of the greatest artists of our time have had their life stories re-written by institutions in order to present a picture that is more appealing to influential (conservative) donors, collectors, and institutional leaders. This is still happening TODAY. A 2013 exhibition at MoMA presented works by Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns made during a six-year period of collaboration. The specific timespan of this ‘collaboration’ refers to the six years during which Rauschenberg and Johns were lovers—this relationship was the driving force behind this fruitful collaboration. At the museum the introductory placard described the two artists as being “in dialogue with one another,” never even hinting at the nature of their real relationship. This puzzling decision by MoMA essentially put Johns and Rauschenberg back into the closet. They selectively omitted one of the most important aspects of these artists' histories and the sole reason the works exist to begin with, effectively re-writing history. Museums, even seemingly progressive ones like MoMA, remain more closeted than you might think. 

Michael Max McLeod
This type of censorship happens every single day and we saw it when Republicans censored the recent exhibition HIDE/SEEK: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture which put the issue of sexuality in American art on the map. I am sure that there is at least one right-wing supporter of that censorship who owns a handsome, nonpartisan cityscape by Berenice Abbott without even knowing she was a self-proclaimed lesbian who prior had spent her years photographing the lesbians, gays, and bisexuals of 1920’s Paris! So it is in this context that we are discussing queer art and artists today. We see queer artists everywhere, we have seen them for over a century. They have been a backbone of our culture, prominent taste-makers, legendary thinkers, and influential figures. They are in our museum collections, they are in exhibitions, they bring staggering prices at auctions worldwide. Yet, we have been told an entirely sanitized story that warps history. This is monumentally problematic because when we don’t tell the history of sexuality in American art, we get art history wrong. For this reason I think it’s important to present exhibitions like Here and Now that don’t just present work by queer artists, but rather honors their conceptual framework and gives us a platform for meaningful discussion beyond ‘this is gay.’ This is just one conversation, and there are infinite ones to be had. I like that this idea of journeys is relatable and easy to connect back to other artists, writers, and thinkers that are familiar to us—this idea just provides and entry point, a conversation starter.

Molly Landreth

AK: If you could include any historical photographers in this exhibition, who would they be and why?

Within the context of the show, what Berenice Abbott was doing in he 1920's in Paris was not much different than what many of the artists in this show are doing. That work is virtually unknown to many and so much more charged and interesting than a lot of her New York work which I find quite dry. But for the sake of just sharing exquisite work by queer artists from our last century I would include works by Thomas Eakins, as well as by Peter Hujar, Minor White, Mark Morrisroe, Arthur Tress, Felix Gonzales Torres, Ruth Bernhard, George Platt Lynes, and many more. I like Mapplethorpe and consider him a hugely important figure, but I prefer Peter Hujar's vision of that era over Mapplethorpe's. At a time when being queer was not openly acceptable, many artists banded together to form movements and work as teams. I love the work of collectives like General Idea and El Grupo Chaclacayo, a Peruvian collective that sequestered themselves in the outskirts of Lima during the conflict of the 1980's whose endeavor was one of the most daring episodes of artistic experimentation and sexual-political performance to emerge in Peru.

Zackary Drucker