Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Christopher Sims Wins Baum Award for 2010

Southern photographer Christopher Sims is having a year to remember. Already, he has been short-listed by Photo Lucida's Critical Mass process and selected for a show at Foto/Fest 2010 in Houston. Now, he has been chosen as this year's recipient of the prestigious Baum Award for Emerging American Photographers, which includes $10, 000 and a solo exhibition at SF Camerawork, opening in San Francisco on May 6, 2010.

The Baum Award is given each year to an emerging artist working in photography who in the view of the jury deserves support and wider recognition. The award is administered by SF Camerawork, which receives nominations from art curators across the country. Chris was one of 50 artists whose work was considered by this year's jury, which included Bruce Hainley, Artforum, Los Angeles; Erin O'Toole, department of photography, SFMOMA; and Jack von Euw, The Bancroft Library Pictorial Collection, UC Berkeley.

Chris won the award on the basis of his portfolio Theater of War: The Pretend Villages of Iraq and Afghanistan, first exhibited in 2008 at UNC's Center for the Study of the American South, in Chapel Hill, NC. Since then, the work has been exhibited at the Houston Center for Photography, the Griffin Museum of Photography, the Light Factory, and the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art.

Chris has an eye for the strange within the ordinary, and is a master of powerful understatement. One of his portfolios documents the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, in Cuba. Here, this center of controversy about our treatment of prisoners accused of terrorism is represented by a series of images of parking lots, swimming pools, and meeting rooms, devoid of any of the participants -- either prisoners or guards or interrogators -- who make this more than any ordinary, even banal, American suburban landscape.

Chris' winning body of work for the Baum competition comments on war by documenting the curious way in which the US government prepares American solders for fighting in the Middle East by recreating foreign communities on American soil. These are really low-budget operations so there is precious little "foreignness" to the sites, yet they certainly do not look American. Chris's uncanny juxtaposition of the odd and the ordinary foregrounds the fake, the artificial, and the surreal within American culture.

One might see in this vision of America a southern perspective, one that operates both in and out of an American identity, aware of being a part of all this, yet distant, able to adopt a position that questions while it records what it puts before us. Chris says in an interview that sometimes he participates in the mock war games, taking the role of a photojournalist, hence embodying in his practice an inside/outside stance, accepting pretense while exposing it.

Congratulations to Chris. He does deep work. He is certainly a Southern Photographer to Watch Out For.

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