Dares From the Familiar From 7 Photographers at Hollingsworth Gallery’s Latest Show
FlaglerLive | October 8, 2011
Photography is on the defensive as an art. Anyone can point and shoot. It’s even more so today, when cameras are synonymous with phones and phones are verging on becoming part of the human anatomy. Taking snapshots and disseminating them on Facebook, in emails, on blogs, where they often replace words altogether, is like chatter. Anyone can’t just be an actor, a painter, a sculptor, a poet or a novelist. Anyone can be a photographer. It makes it difficult for photographers who see their work as art to stand out.
- “7 Cameras” opened Oct. 8 with a free reception from 6 to 10 p.m. and runs through the month at Hollingsworth Gallery, located at City Market Place, 160 Cypress Point Parkway, behind Walmart, in Palm Coast. Call 386/871-9546 for details.
“7 Cameras,” the Hollingsworth Gallery’s show opening Saturday evening, gives snap-shooting a hike. As Mercedes McCartney, the photographer who curated “7 Cameras,” put it, “I wanted to choose photographers that didn’t necessarily have images that people could just easily reproduce.” The show is also indicative of a greater interest in photography at Hollingsworth—if submitted work compels it. “There’s only so many photographs of the pier that I can look at in one day, before it just becomes another photograph of the pier,” JJ Graham, Hollingsworth’s owner, says. “I’ve seen one photograph that’s been brought in in the past month, that was a photograph of the pier that was actually really interesting and unusual. I guess what I’m trying to do is set a bar. When people bring photography in here I want to be transported. I want to feel like a voyeur. There’s plenty of things I see here in my daily activities. Take me somewhere else.”
The new show does just that. You’ll get that effect the moment you walk in when you look left, at the black and white photographs of Mark Townsend and his “Mudders”—a visual documentary of Bunnell’s mud-bogging culture of monster trucks, mud pools, beer, confederate flags, and lots of mud-splattered white people less than more dressed. You’ll get the effect when you look right at Dan Biferie’s “churchscapes,” as he calls his portraits of lonesome churches, or when you look at his Win Jones-like scenes evanescent figures verging on eerie in the most ordinary settings. You’ll certainly get that effect from looking at Jennifer Kaczmare’s family portraits, young girls–Kaczmare’s own children, who’ve grown up in front of their mother’s camera–so unaware of their vulnerability and innocence that clothes seem to them like an encumbrance. On image especially: a prepubescent girl in an immense gray-brown sea under a threatening sky, the water covering her almost up to the shoulders, her red and orange bikini and her bright skin small fires in the dusk all around. The girl is as calm as her surroundings, and just as disquieting. Some of the images will immediately evoke those of Sally Mann, the American photographer who created a bit of a puritan stir in the 1990s when she published images of her variously nude children
The exhibit collects the work of seven photographers, most of them from Flagler or Volusia counties: Steven Benson, Biferie, Nik Clements, Kaczmarek, A.J. Neste, Townsend, and three works by McCartney, who says she won’t self-curate again (“because I wasn’t able to focus on my work, so I only have three pieces”). Those hang diagonally from those of Kaczmarek, a friend of McCartney’s, an influence of sorts, and the subject of one of the three photographs: the figure looks faint in a scope of deep blue and what looks as literal as a metal scope. She calls it “a wishful self-portrait”—of beauty and health dissimulated somewhere out of reach. Like McCartney’s two other portraits (of her young son and of Graham, her companion and her son’s father), the figures are behind panes of glass. “I’m dealing with layers right now,” she says, “all these layers that you hide behind.” Her work is as personal as visual entries from a diary.
Steven Benson’s photographs, black and white like most in this exhibit, angle around a fascination with lines and nature’s (or urban nature’s, as in the case of a street scene in Chicago or what looks like a dead dog at the foot of a wall’s leaky pipe, the dog’s hind legs looking bound) unintended symmetries and visual puns. Benson is the best traveled of the seven photographers here, which raises a question: some of his most compelling work—especially from China’s Three Gorges Dam—is not on display. Space is limited in every exhibit, but what there is of Benson leaves you wanting something more. It’s there. It’s just not on display.
Clements’s work hadn’t arrived when this piece was written, and it was delayed in the mail in Boston, so it wouldn’t be displayed for Saturday’s opening, though it’s due in early next week. It’s been replaced for now by the work of two alumni from the Daytona State College photography program (Juliana Romnes and Alexis Rogers). When it gets there it’ll fit right in: Clements images “blur the distinction between film and digital photography,” he writes on his website, where the viewer can glimpse other blurs, too: in his “Bygone series,” photographs as snapshots of memory are transformed into a shattering of memory, like a palimpsest.
Flagler Beach’s A.J. Neste has three photographs in this exhibit—three of the most figurative works on display, one of which stands out like its subject: a surfer at the crest of a gigantic wave, about to take a whirl as if down the steepest mountain slope. There’s a little magic in this photograph, from Neste himself. The story goes that he was on a small boat, the boat had stalled, the enormous wave was approaching and would have swallowed the boat, Neste, his gear and his pilot, had the engine not started up again at the last moment. It was at that moment that Neste took the picture, which stops one’s breath with or without backstory, and not just because of the suspended madness of the moment. The surfer’s skate down the wave’s mountain slope is framed against the backdrop of a perfect counterpoint: a steep, distant mountain that mirrors the wave itself.
The photographs likely to elicit the most debate are those of Kaczmare’s, for the wrong reasons, and Townsend’s, for their mixture of immediate familiarity (they were all shot in Bunnell) and foreignness (they might as well have been shot at the Three Gorges Dam for most). The pictures’ judgments can be overt and off-putting: the suggestion of a butt crack, the gimpy beer drinker, the thick-thighed, bikinied teen, a man bent over the engine guts of a monster truck ironically showing his butt above the truck’s confederate license plate while two other men, one on each side of the elevated truck, look headless inside the wheel cavities. Instead of headlights, the truck sports Bunnell logos. Like Walker Evans’s documentary photographs of the Depression, these pictures, with their pronounced contrasts (in form and subject) don’t want you to feel anything sentimental. A single one of these images would be arresting. A whole family of them looks vaguely like an exposé, like the voyeurism Graham was referring to. It is country culture. It’s real. It’s backyard foreign, though to mud-boggers maybe Palm Coast’s manicured subdivisions of retirees look equally foreign.
“I almost feel like I invaded their world, but that’s kind of an exciting feeling because I had no idea that they were there,” Graham says. “I’m sitting here on my Saturday, I want to come up here and paint, and there’s this whole other culture going on there that I didn’t even know existed. He had to stretch to go find that, because it would have been easy for him to go out in his backyard and shoot a pretty flower. It would have been easy for him to walk down and say here’s another picture of the pier, and everybody’s going to identify with that, and maybe somebody will want it in their beach house bungalow. But he actually had to get out and find this.”
One way or another, the same can be said of these seven photographers—even, incidentally, when they happen to be shooting in their backyard.