At the Photolucida portfolio reviews in Portland, OR last month, photographers shared their work with gallerists, curators, publishers, editors, writers and other reviewers over the course of four days. Each reviewer, myself included, met with 48 photographers for 20 minutes each. Interested to know what stood out to a few of my fellow reviewers, I asked National Geographic Director of Photography Sarah Leen, Etherton Gallery’s Daphne Srinivasan and Chronicle Books Senior Editor Bridget Watson Payne to name one or two artists whose work they appreciated.
Watson Payne singled out Minnesota photographer Sarah Sampedro’s images of land use and gentrification in a Minneapolis neighborhood, which Watson Payne called a “clear-sighted look at a potentially contentious subject.” Sampedro’s images do not show any of the neighborhood’s residents, but instead focus on the landscapes and details of the homes. Sampedro also hand-wrote text from a community Facebook group on the prints, incorporating the voices of some of the residents into the project. “Sampedro neither sensationalizes nor downplays the various changes and tensions occurring in this particular spot (which of course mirror similar things happening in neighborhoods all across the country),” Watson Payne points out. “Rather, through compositional beauty and an eagle eye for the telling detail, she puts a reality before us and lets us, the viewers, draw our own conclusions.”
Srinivasan highlighted two projects: Archana Vikram’s “The Unwelcome,” a series about female infanticide in India, and Miska Draskoczy’s “Gowanus Wild,” a paradoxical exploration of nature around the Gowanus Canal Superfund cleanup site in Brooklyn, New York.
Vikram’s series of still lifes use flowers to show “with subtlety and compassion, the varied and horrifying ways in which infant girls are killed,” Srinivasan said in an email to PDN. “Her photographs call attention to the larger problem of indifference to crimes against women, which exists not just in India but on a global scale.”
Draskoczy’s “Gowanus Wild,” which he’s exhibited and published as a book, is a series of night photographs that show nature’s resiliency in the face of industrial pollution. “Images like the egret perched in a tree overlooking the Gowanus Canal are deceptively simple and evoke a stillness that is otherwise hard to find,” Srinivasan says. “However the power of his work is that it distills and reveals a tension in the multiple histories and life-cycles, man-made and natural, all of which exist side-by-side in Gowanus. I was transported by that beautiful image of the egret in which it all came together for one brief moment.”
Leen cited Carol Erb’s series “Dominion.” To create the work, Erb composited her photographs of animals with photographs of built spaces in which they don’t belong. The images reference “a history of domestication and the way we can often fool ourselves into thinking of animals as extensions of our own needs and emotions,” Erb writes in her project statement. “These animals are not at home here. Nonetheless, there is a disturbing beauty in their isolation.” Leen picked up on that beauty. “The whimsical fantastical worlds that Carol Erb builds for her creatures feel like part of a fairy tale,” she said in an email to PDN. “I very much enjoyed the doors they opened into the imagination.”
For my own part, there were several projects that stood out to me during the reviews, but the three that have stayed with me slightly more than the others are Joe Freeman Jr.‘s “Keechelus,” JP Terlizzi’s “Mother,” and Ira Wagner’s “Houseraising on the Jersey Shore.”
Freeman’s classic, black-and-white photographs show old growth tree stumps in Keechelus Lake in the Cascade Mountains near Seattle. When the lake was dammed to control water flows for agriculture in the early 20th century, the old growth trees were chopped down for timber. But the water has preserved the stumps, which emerge when the lake is low. The gnarled and twisted shapes of the stumps subtly allude to environmental degradation without preaching.
Wagner’s work also addresses the uneasy relationship between humans and the natural world, but from a very different angle. His colorful typologies of Jersey Shore homes being lifted off the ground following Hurricane Sandy to protect them from rising seas and future floods reference how our society is dealing (or not) with the prospect of an altered planet. But they also reveal the lengths to which people will go to preserve what is theirs.
Finally, Terlizzi’s images of his aging mother were touching in their honesty and in the photographer’s willingness to tell a painful, personal story about how his mother’s unaddressed emotional trauma tore through his family. The images were an effort to come to terms with his mother’s experience as she neared the end of her life. “The process was one of personal discovery,” Terlizzi writes in his statement, “but more importantly, it provided closure.” I thought it was a brave project, and look forward to seeing more from Terlizzi.
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