Monday, April 24, 2017

Photolucida

Andy Mattern
Photolucida hit Portland this past weekend, just as it does every other April. It's always fun to pop in on the evening Portfolio walk to get a sampling of what's happening out there in photo land, or at least in its more ambitious nether regions. The conference tagline promises "you'll see more photography in one evening than most people see in a lifetime," which sounds like hyperbole until you realize it's kinda true. The event lasts a full three hours, which is just barely enough time to see everything, but only if you drink a big cup of coffee before, pace yourself, and don't dawdle. Last Thursday I indulged... As with prior Photolucidas typology projects were out in force, including efforts from Stephen Seidenberg, Kevin Schick, Max Kellenberger, Katie Harwood, Jane Szabo among others. My favorite was Andy Mattern's collection of strangely taped darkroom paper boxes, one of those WTF ideas that shouldn't work on paper, not to mention paper boxes, but won me over. I recognized the graphic design of my personal favorite, Ilford Glossy Fiber Multigrade, its box masked and scraped up into a Rothko-style abstraction. That image set the hook, and the full set was duly rewarding... Mattern may have been the only one focused on box covers, but bygone tools of the trade were a common theme as subject matter. I suppose now that the era of film has officially passed, it can be examined at arm's length as an historic or ironic or nostalgic process, or maybe all three. In any case photos of film are usually made now digitally. The
Kent Krugh
war is over, and history is written by the victors... 
Kent Krugh was one such author. His X-ray photos of old film cameras were just odd enough to be intriguing. I felt I'd seen something similar before, but where?..Oh yes, the airport security line! OK, maybe the idea is a one-trick pony but Krugh's clean presentation and soft printing —I could've sworn they were watercolors before examining closely— gave these prints a warm charm. Somehow X-rays seem both topical and foreboding, considering the surveillance state currently surrounding us, the increasing prevalence of security scans required for entrance to all sorts of places, and my broken femur.... Alan Ostreicher continued the tools-of-the-trade motif, treating celluloid itself as the subject. His photogram-style montages of film strips and film sheets hung on the verge of complete abstraction. .. Ostreicher was just the tip of the silhouette iceberg, as several other Photolucidans explored Plato's cave, theorizing various forms and outlines. I guess folks miss making photograms in the darkroom. Or else missed out on darkrooms entirely. For whatever reason, two dimensional shapes seem to be having a moment. Kerry Mansfield, Diane Pierce, Hilary AtiyehBill Westheimer, Randi Ganulin, and Rachel Wolf each explored the territory... Of course the so-called "real" world of three dimensions was represented too, albeit in limited quantities, unless you consider a
JK Lavin
studio the real world. JK Lavi
n's gorgeous nightscapes were so entrancing I had to sift through the whole box. She makes these images with a handheld camera in near pitch black conditions, with exposures ranging from 15 seconds on up. The resulting images blur suburban scenery, trees, and Hidoesque light sources into bewitching frames bridging the gap between photogram and visual krautrock... Before seeing Peter Andrew Lusztyk's aeriel shots of highway interchanges I'd never laughed out loud at suburban wastelands. But Lusztyk's godlike perspective and clean framing allowed their all too real absurdity to ding my funny bone, and made me wonder if civic planners might possess an untapped inner artist.... Luc Busquin also used a plane to capture the social landscape from above, with mixed results. His photos were perfectly composed, and a few were absolute gems. But maybe that was the problem. They were too perfect. When you see 30 such photos in a group you begin to doubt if reality is an unplanned mess after all. And when you see 100 such perfect portfolios in a room...well, you begin to wonder what's real and what isn't. If the plain worldly presentation of, say, Walker Evans or Eugene Atget was nowhere to be found on Thursday, that's just the nature of the beast. Photolucida has always been less about photographs than photographers. So it stands to reason that most Photolucidans can't help injecting a big dose of themselves into their work. Although straight photos with a twist of the absurd are my photo drink of choice, I realize a place like Photolucida isn't the best hunting ground for such material... Street photographs can hit a nerve of reality sometimes, and every biennial iteration seems to include at least one old school street bro hanging around the scene like a round lens on a square hole. This year it was Jim Lustenader. His monochrome silver prints fit the "street" brief perfectly, but with only moderately interesting results... Thomas Alleman isn't exactly a street photographer but he has that snooping, voyueristic instinct and a nose for serendipitous composition. He basically hunts with his eye, then sorts
Thomas Alleman
later. In 
other words, a photographic dinosaur. But I'm happy to report his eye ain't bad. Alleman has moved on from his earlier vein of monochrome Holga into straight up color fill-flash. His recent photographs of Los Angeles flowers in spring showed a deft touch for position and framing. But the biggest lesson of Alleman wasn't his photos. It was watching him network expertly with the passing crowd. He has an outgoing, don't-I-know-you? personality custom tailored for portfolio reviews... The evening's prize for most disturbing photographs went to Rebecca Martinez. Her portraits of Nazi re-enactors somehow normalized and creepified her subjects at once. Stacy Kranitz had shot the same crazy freaks but in a more immersive, less clinical way. By contrast Martinez was an objective sharpshooter. Her lighting was vaguely romantic, the German army uniforms spotless, the faces smug. "Do these people enjoy dressing up like this?" I asked her. She replied that it was just about their favorite thing in the world, but she needn't have said anything. Her photos absolutely stung.... They were almost as disconcerting as the nearby celebrity portraits composited from online porn jpgs. Finally, the huuuge dick in the White House had been atomized to essential components! Mel Gibson and George Bush too. Unfortunately I can't remember the name of this photographer. I grabbed cards as I went and by the end of the evening my pockets were stuffed, but somehow the Trump-Porn creator escaped me. Does anyone know?... After three hours my photo receptors were fried, so I decamped with friends to a nearby film strip club for debriefing. I can only imagine how the Photolucidans felt. They'd been through not only the evening's festivities but an
Photolucida
entire day of reviews earlier that day. And that was day one of four to come. Whew! To participate in such a grueling ritual requires a level of preparation, polish, and chutzpah that I can't really imagine. These folks have their two minute elevator pitch down, their portfolios edited and re-edited, their takeaways ready, hair combed and palms dry. I get exhausted just thinking about it. I mean holy shit, at this point
the gig is basically a business convention with demographics to match. The general age, social class, and professionalism of participants has matured steadily since I attended the very first Photolucida (then called PhotoAmericas) in 2000. Is it my imagination or did they allow in more of the sandals-and-shorts crowd back then? Maybe it was before the security scanners? Not that I'm a good judge. I'm out of the photo loop, and have never been in the business loop. But I still have great fun peeking in on the scene every two years, and seeing all the local associated exhibitions... Anyhoo, it's now monday and the storm has passed. I imagine that in Portland this morning a lot of belts were being loosened, alarm clock snooze buttons hit, and breathes exhaled. Maybe a few participants achieved complete satisfaction, and a larger pool connected with a dealer or learned something about themselves or somehow got their money's ($1200?) worth. I appreciate all the Photolucidans for making the event what it is. I certainly can't complain when a big chunk of photoland parks itself nearby for a weekend. Hey reviewees, good luck in the future. Break a leg. Get it X-rayed. Just wish you'd stop moving here

3 comments:

Colin said...

It's funny; as I was reading, I glanced at the photo of Photolucida itself, and I associated it with the description of Rebecca Martinez's Nazi re-enactors stuff (vaguely romantic lighting, everyone is white, spotlessly attired and well coiffed). I actually thought that was what it was until I finished reading and went back to enlarge the pic. I guess that says something about what both Portland and stuff like this looks like.

Blake Andrews said...

Yup, both Portland and Photolucida are generally white and well coiffed. But it seems a stretch to compare them to Nazis. I would've posted a Martinez Nazi photo but I couldn't find any one her site. I think it's a relatively new project.

Aline said...

An excellent recap...spot on.