Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sally Mann at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Sally Mann (shown above surrounded by her work in an image from the Richmond Times Dispatch) is having a major exhibition of her work at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, open now through January 23rd, 2011.

Mann chooses not to call this a retrospective, since she says that sounds like something one does at the end of a career, and she is very much in the middle of hers. Nevertheless, this show includes 90 images drawn from all phases of her career and includes early work that is being shown for the first time.

Sally Mann is in my view the most important Southern photographer working actively today. She has produced major bodies of work that have earned her an international reputation and just about every fellowship and award available to her, all from her home base in Lexington, Virginia. The themes of her work -- time, landscape, the South's tangled and complex history, and their inscriptions on the bodies of young and old alike -- are all deeply grounded in Southern concerns and obsessions.

Mann's photographic technique -- her use of old cameras and historic processes for image-making -- inscribe the history of her medium in the surface of her images. Each one embodies the paradox of seeing photographically -- the clarity with which the photographic image can put us in the presence of  complex and painful subjects and yet remind us of the difficulty of seeing through the haze of memory or the complexities of desire or the fearful paradoxes of mortality.

I suspect that Mann has spent much time, profitably, with the images of Matthew Brady and the novels of William Faulkner, with the photographic record of slaves' tortured flesh and Civil War carnage and the stories of the South's complex attempts to make meaning of its memories, passions, and desires.

Atlanta's Jennifer Schwartz went to the show in Richmond. Here is her report. This is a major show, well worth getting to. There is an extended discussion of this show, and of Mann's career in photography, at here.  If you can't get to Richmond, the catalogue is available here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

PhotoNOLA 2010 Opening December 2nd

PhotoNOLA for 2010 brings to a close the year's run of photography festivals. This year it opens in New Orleans on December 2nd and runs through December 11th. Events include a gala, the annual Portfolio Review, a lecture by the ubiquitous Mary Virginia Swanson, as well as a large number of special exhibitions, lectures, and receptions.

The complete calendar is here. Samples of images by the folks taking part in the Portfolio Review are here.

There are lots of shows this year at area museums, galleries, and other exhibition spaces. The list of all PhotoNOLA-linked shows is here. Some include work by Southern photographers, including the wittily baroque images of Jamie Baldridge (see his image above) at Taylor Bercier Gallery, images of Mississippi by Kathleen Robbins at Du Mois Gallery, the multi-layered images of Jill Stoll at the Tulane School of ArchitectureJennifer Shaw's images of New Orleans and Katrina at the Guthrie Contemporary Gallery, and the images of Letitia Huckaby at the McKenna Museum of African-American Art.

There is lots of good work to be seen in New Orleans the week after Thanksgiving -- definitely worth checking out.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Another Major Photography Show in the Triangle, now Durham's Turn

There's yet another big photography show up in the Research Triangle of North Carolina.This show is curated by Jeff Whetstone and is called Blackbird whistling / Or just after (seven women reflect on dystopia).   

This show brings together a number of emerging photographers and video artists, including Shannon Ebner (who had work in the 2008 Whitney Biennial and the 2010 Berlin Biennial) , Debbie Grossman, Pamela Pecchio, Lisa Satterwhite, Edie Shimel, Hon-An Truong, and MJ Sharp, whose image Bowls is above. 

This show is up at the Durham Arts Council galleries at 120 Morris Street, in Durham, through December 5th, 2010, with the opening reception scheduled for this Friday, November 19th, from 5-7 pm. 

While the show at Flanders Gallery is mostly of well-established photographers, this show, in Durham, is an exceptional gathering of emerging photographers, some of whom have Southern roots and/or connections (especially MJ, Pamela, Edie, Kisa, and Ho-An). 

Definitely worth a look.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Pamela Pecchio and Jeff Whetstone

Someone once said the very best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else. So universities tend to be havens for fine art photographers. The good news is, you get a day job that pays the bills and also keeps you involved in your photographic practice.  You also get to spend lots of time with creative and energetic young people who have a way of keeping you on your toes.

A number of the folks on my lists of Southern Photographers are on faculties, including Kathleen Robbins at the University of South Carolina, David Simonton at Peace College, Leah Sobsey at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Shannon Johnstone at Meredith College, and Susan Harbage Page at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The current show at Raleigh's Flanders Gallery gives me the chance to feature two more Southern university-based photographers whose work is included in Allen Thomas' photography collection. One is Pamela Pecchio, who teaches photography at the University of Virginia (see image above); the other is Jeff Whetstone, a colleague of Susan Harbage Page at UNC-Chapel Hill (see image below).

Both Pamela and Jeff are Southerners, Pamela from Atlanta and Jeff from Chattanooga, and both received their MFAs from Yale in 2001. But their work is very different.

Pamela works in color, organizing bits and pieces of larger environments, both indoors and domestic as well as outdoors and natural in their setting, into highly idiosyncratic -- and highly provocative -- compositions. In this work, it seems to be the artist's process of setting apart this or that object, rather than the object itself, that compels the viewer.  Pamela brings our attention to a clock, a thermostat, a flower set against patterned wallpaper, a wall with shadows of the framed images that used to hang there. I didn't know I cared about these objects, but Pamela brings my attention to them, and juxtaposes one with another, in compositions that compel our attention. 

Jeff has worked in color, making images of graffiti that he found in his exploration of caves in his native Tennessee and in Alabama, but most recently he has been working in black and white, and in what one might call a conceptualized version of the documentary tradition.

Jeff's portfolio Zoolatry includes the repetition of composition and subject we are familiar with from the work of the Bechers and their followers, but also makes this English teacher think of Wallace Stevens' poem about placing a jar on a hill in Tennessee, a jar which in turn organizes everything around it. His portfolios Orozco, Kentucky, and The New Wilderness use the people and the landscapes of Southern Appalachia familiar from older photographers in an effort not to tell stories as much as to explore concepts of space and time and, in Jeff's words, the way "survival, dominance, and sexuality intertwine in our everyday interaction with the land."

Both Jeff and Pamela are doing great work, work grounded in their Southern backgrounds and histories and their engagement with time, history, and the land. They are both Southern Photographers We Watch Out For.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Photography at Flanders Gallery

The corks popped, the champagne flowed, and the crowds gathered. Folks wandered around looking at the images; the room filled with energy. Ashley Christensen, Raleigh's best chef, turned out the appetizers. As Burk Uzzle said to me as he looked around the crowded space at the Flanders Gallery, its like the larger world of fine art photography had suddenly showed up in Raleigh, NC.

Here was fine work by nationally known photographers  -- like Carrie Levy, Anthony Goicolea, Shen Wei, and Kerry Skarbakka (image above) -- along with a number of locally-based photographers like Burk himself, as well as Pamela Pecchio, Jeff Whetstone, and Taj Forer. Here's one of Pamela's images from this show.

Burk Uzzle is represented in this show by three large -- and fine -- images, including this one, of a Southern barn, turned by Burk's eye into an image evoking comparison with a sculpture, or a Franz Kline painting.

The work in this show is a reminder that to a great extent the fine art world is of a mind, or of a piece, at present about what constitutes a photograph that is also fine art. The work of Southern photographers fits comfortably on the walls of Flanders Gallery alongside the work of photographers from across the country. Ironies abound. New York-based and midwestern-trained photographer Brian Ulrich shows here an image he made of Raleigh's Rialto Theater.

The mind, or the taste, at work here is that of Allen Thomas, an art collector from Wilson, NC, who served as the curator of this show at the Flanders Gallery.  Thomas for the past fifteen years has been assembling a major personal collection of contemporary fine art photographs, some of which have been shown in various venues over the years, including Barton College and the Arts Council of Wilson, NC, the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, VA, the Mint Museum of Art in Charlotte, NC, and the NC Museum of Art here in Raleigh.

For those of us who have been struggling for years to develop a community for photography in this small part of the South, this show is not an unmixed blessing. It is a great treat, a real gift to photographers in the area, to have work we know otherwise from trips to Atlanta, Washington, and New York now hanging in a gallery near us. I'm deeply grateful to Allen Thomas for his energy and insight and commitment to fine art photography and his initiative in bringing this level of work to Raleigh and the Research Triangle. 

On the other hand, this is a city where the only gallery devoted to fine art photography just closed. It is a city in which photography is traditionally a hard sell in the area's other galleries. Most of us in the area who make fine art photographs often find more recognition for our work outside the area than we do closer to home.

Certainly the local media have done nothing to bring attention to this show -- in spite of all the local connections, our city's newspaper this week in its art section said nothing about this show, featuring instead a story they downloaded from a news service about an exhibit of paintings from the Vatican that isn't even going to come anywhere near Raleigh.

On the other hand, folks seemed to be enjoying themselves at the Opening Friday night. As the evening went along, red dots were beginning to make their appearance under some of the images. There is hope, although only time will tell whether this show is the sign of a new stage in the development of an audience for this kind of work in the area, or yet another one-time event.

I plan to enjoy this show as long as its here -- it's up through the beginning of next year, and Flanders Gallery is open at 302 S. West Street from 11-6 Wednesdays through Saturdays -- and hope for better things in the year ahead.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

FOTOWeek DC in Full Swing

 FOTOWeek DC started on the 6th of November, and is in full swing through this week, including exhibits all over DC and the suburbs, involving large-scale projections of work onto public buildings and shows at the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery as well as a whole slew of shows in private galleries and other venues.

For daily updates go here.

This year, the Corcoran Gallery is the center of events, with several shows of photography, including displays of winning work in a number of contests sponsored by FOTOWeek DC. These include winners of work by younger photographers as well as several categories of work by us older folks. For winners, go here,  here,  and here.

Good to see Raleigh's Jimmy Williams featured as winner of the Commercial category for work he made for the NC Department of Tourism.  Also good to see the show in Gallery 31 of work by recent graduates of the Corcoran College of Art + Design, including work by Charlotte photographer Andy McMillan.

Andy shows work from his portfolio documenting the current state of Charlotte's Heritage USA, the Christian Theme Park developed by Jim and Tammy Faye Baker that fell onto hard times after Jim got caught in bed with a staff member. Some of the land has been turned into commercial real estate developments, including the houses pictured in Andy's photograph, above.

On topics not directly Southern, but well worth checking out if you are in DC, are the major shows, including two that integrate photography and paintings into larger surveys of art and cultural display. These include the National Gallery's show of paintings and photographs,  The Pre-Raphaelite Lens: British Photography and Painting, 1848–1875 (now up through January 30, 2011) and the show at the National Portrait Gallery, HIDE/SEEK: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture ( through February 13, 2011), which explores art's uses of secrecy and disclosure in the treatment of same-sex relationships.

There is also a big show of Lee Friedlander's work at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Blake Gopnick of the Washington Post is doing a great job of reviewing the major events of FOTOWeek DC this year. You can find his reviews here.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Photography Show Opening at Flanders Gallery this Friday

Raleigh's Flanders Gallery is opening a large photography show this week in their new space at 302 South West Street, in the Warehouse District of Downtown Raleigh.The opening reception for this show, which is entitled Open Season, is from 6:00 - 8:50 pm.

This show, curated by photography collector Allen Thomas, features, in addition to the image Rialto Theater by Brian Ulrich, shown above, work by a wide range of photographers including Keliy Anderson-Staley, Tim Briner, Jesse Burke, Katrina d’Autremont, Ian F.G. Dunn, Nils Ericson, Dan Estabrook, Jody Fausett, Taj Forer, Anthony Goicolea, Allison Hunter, Michael Itkoff, Bill Jacobson, Sara Anne Johnson, Carrie Levy, Chris McCaw, Pamela Pecchio, Kristine Potter, Francesca Romeo, Kerry Skarbakka, Tema Stauffer, Bill Sullivan, Tim Tate, Burk Uzzle, Stacy Lynn Waddell, Shen Wei, Jeff Whetstone, and Cosmo Whyte.

Some of these folks are Southerners, though most are not. They are in the show because they appealed to Allen Thomas, a life-long Southerner who lives in the not-so-small North Carolina town of Wilson and who has been building a collection of contemporary photography for some years.

The folks at Flanders Gallery explain the title "Open Season" as "referencing those times during which certain hunting regulations are lifted, suggests an occasionally liberating free-for-all, a sort of throwback to the Bakhtinian conception of the carnival and the psychological release and escape it inspires. In other words, an open season cannot exist without an accompanying regimentation of society whose forced order can be briefly relaxed. It is in this regard that the phrase parallels art collecting. The act of acquiring can engender feelings of euphoria, but life’s practicalities rarely allow for it to constitute a consistent reality."

This is a major photography show for Raleigh, and for North Carolina -- definitely worth checking out.