May 16th, 2010


The New York Photo Festival opened last night in the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn with a speedy tour for members of the press. The festival’s four main galleries – called “pavilions” – feature so much strong work and provocative imagery that it seems quibbling to note that some of the shows in which these images appear lack coherent themes. 

It’s a criticism that was leveled at last year’s festival, too (most thoughtfully by Joerg Colberg ofConscientious).  In the festival’s third year, it may be time to give up trying to glean any significance in the juxtaposition of the images. Maybe the best way to approach the festival is just to poke around and see what’s cool. And consider the festival’s four main pavilions a lesson in how difficult it is to curate a show. 

Critic Vince Aletti said the death of the great still-life innovator Irving Penn last year inspired him to put together a show of contemporary still-life photographs.  “In the context of this Festival,” he said, choosing to focus on one of photography’s oldest genres “seems very conservative.” But sometimes the best ideas are the simple ones. “Object Lessons” brings together artists who photograph inanimate objects for a variety of purposes, from autobiography to abstraction. It includes Andrea Modica’s black and white studies of underpants; Sharon Core’s painterly images of food; Bill Jacobson’s graphic object studies; Sally Gall’s studies of spider webs and Adam Bartos’s large-format juxtapositions of objects that could be taken for homages to Penn’s editorial illustrations. 

For “Use Me, Abuse Me,” the prolific creative director and book publisher Erik Kessels wanted to look at how artists are painting on, drawing on,  cutting up and repurposing their own or other photographers’ images. Kessels noted that as more photography becomes digital, more artists “want to work with their hands again.” He also noted, “I was interested in how far you could stretch the use of photography these days.”  The show includes Linus Bill’s doodles, which were made by drawing with light on photographic paper; ceramics interpreting and incorporating photographs; and a family photo album in which artist Claudio Sola, after a fight with her father, stuck Darth Vader’s head over his image  (boy, that’s showing him).

Author and educator Fred Ritchin also seems interested in exploring what a photograph can be these days. Is it a “decisive moment” selected by the photographer? Ritchin’s show includes a series of surveillance photos by Michael Wolf, and what appear to be Constable-esque landscapes recording the changing seasons in a field, but were taken using a web camera by James Pomerantz, who has no idea where the camera has been set up. Can a portrait present a person’s essence? Ritchin’s show includes Robbie Cooper’s photos of video gamers dressed as their avatars; Linn Underhill’s photos of herself posing as various male artists; and a series of identity card portraits of Algerian women, posing without their veils, which Marc Garanger was forced to take when he served in the French Army during the Algerian War of Independence. Is a photograph a record of the present?  Jessica Ingram and Raphaele Dallaporta have probed history by photographing what appear to be unremarkable buildings but were actually the sites of past horrors:  murders committed during the Civil Rights era  (in Ingram’s photos) and modern-day slavery (in Dallaporta’s photos). The show also includes photos of Antarctica by Lim Young Kyun and social documentary images of poor Americans by Joseph Rodriguez.  Ritchin calls his show “Bodies in Question,” but it seems to pose several questions at once. 

The fourth guest "curator" for this year's Festival is Lou Reed. Reed took some of his favorite photo books and placed them in black portfolio cases. He also laid two framed Henry Darger illustrations on a table. The title of this display is “Hidden Books, Hidden Stories.”  He is also showing several dozen images from the books in a slide show set to a soundtrack he composed. The images are very nice. And that’s all there is to say about that. 

Besides the four guest curator pavilions, the Festival includes an exhibition of young Latin American photographers; a show of 24 photo essays on the theme of human rights and social justice presented by Anthropographia; “Warzone,” presented by the Noorderlicht Photo Festival;  images by the 2009 Tierney Fellowship winners; the inaugural show of the photographers in the Sombra Projects, which showcases “social documentary photography within a fine-art esthetic”; an exhibition of photos of North Korea by Liu Yuan, curated by photographer and editor Taj Forer, and other presentations and slide shows. The Festival continues through May 16.

(Photo © Sharon Core. From "Object Lessons" at the New York Photo Festival.)




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