Friday, July 19, 2013

The State of American Photography Today at CAM Raleigh

Raleigh's Contemporary Art Museum (CAM), at 409 West Martin Street, in Raleigh's Warehouse District, is quickly becoming a major cultural resource for the Southeast.

This is especially true for contemporary fine art photography, as two shows now up at CAM clearly demonstrate. 

Only one of the ten photographers whose work is on exhibit in these shows is a Southerner, but the quality of the work on offer is extremely high and the approaches to photography they take are very diverse.

If one wanted an introduction to the state of fine art photographic practice in America at the moment, this is an exceptionally good place to find it.

In the main gallery at CAM is a retrospective of recent work by Melanie Schiff, from her The Stars Are Not Wanted Now portfolio (see images above).

Schiff's work has been included in major shows, including the Whitney Biennial (2008), as well as shows at MoMA PS1, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and, as they say, all the major museums and galleries across Europe and the United States.

Gallery 2 at CAM offers us Currents -- a diverse gathering of work by nine emerging photographers, including Michele Abeles, Matthew Baum, Matthew Brandt, Debbie Grossman, Carolyn Janssen, Maciek Jasik, Sarah Anne Johnson, Chris McCaw, and Arne Svenson.

The work here ranges widely across subject matter, from Baum's triptychs of Civil War battlefields (see image above) to Svenson's photographs of people he observed through the windows of their apartment building across the street from his in New York City (see image below).

The subject of Grossman's photography is photography itself, specifically photographs made by Farm Security Administration photographer Russell Lee in the New Mexico town of Pie Town, in the 1930's. She takes his images and in her words "reimagines" them in Photoshop, so in My Pie Town, Grossman's Pie Town, all the inhabitants are women (see image below).

There is also a wide range of photographic techniques on offer, from straight photography to Janssen's large composite images (see image below) to Johnson's hybrids of photography and painting.  Janssen, with her MFA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is, by the way, the only photographer here with Southern connections.

Chris McCaw's and Matthew Brandt's work engages the physical world directly. Brandt photographs bodies of water and then soaks his images in water from the lake, river, or ocean he has photographed. McCaw lets the sun literally burn holes or gashes in his film, then prints these direct traces of light's power (see image below).

All of the images in Currents are on loan from the collection of Allen Thomas, a North Carolina photography collector who himself has become a cultural treasure. The vast depth and range of his collection of photographs is matched only by his generosity in loaning it to museums and galleries.

Like CAM, where this work will be up through October 7th, 2013. It is well worth your making the trip to downtown Raleigh, to take it all in.

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