The centerpiece of the FotoFocus Biennial’s programming was its five days of events at Memorial Hall — films, panel discussions, lectures and a Saturday-night performance of This Filthy World by John Waters.
As the Wednesday-Sunday events coincided with other key FotoFocus events — the excellent Screenings exhibit of short art films curated by the biennial’s artistic director, Kevin Moore, was at Lightborne Studios during the same period — it was hard to attend everything.
But what I did attend was really rewarding — thought-provoking discussions about photography that centered on ideas and thus were of interest to everyone. In fact, that’s a point I think needs to be made about FotoFocus as it seeks to grow its following: It isn’t a narrow-focused event for photography professionals; it’s for anyone who likes the visual arts. That should be everyone.
Here are some of the highlights of what I was able to attend:
A panel discussion on FotoFocus’ Vivian Maier: A Quiet Pursuit exhibition, about the secretive Chicago street photographer whose work has only recently been discovered since her death. One guest was Howard Greenberg, the New York fine-art photography dealer who represents John Maloof, the Chicago owner of much of Maier’s archives of unpublished work. Regarding a current dispute with another party over who has the right to print and sell her work, Greenberg said he and Maloof were close to an agreement with the city of Chicago-appointed attorney for the Maier estate to let sales of prints resume while the dispute proceeds, since the income would benefit the estate.
A conversation with photographer Elena Dorfman, whose recent Empire Falling project documented old Rust Belt quarries but then manipulated the images into something slightly ethereal, offered stimulating ideas about how post-industrial ruins have become melancholy pilgrimage sites — accidental earthworks to rival “Spiral Jetty” or “Lightning Field.”
Friday night’s keynote lecture on “Shadow and Substance: Photography and the Civil War,” by Jeff L. Rosenheim of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was fantastically involving. He was an engaged and engaging speaker. For instance, he explained why there are so few actual photographs of battles – with both sides blasting away, sometimes imprecisely, at each other on battlefields, few photographers wanted to set up their cumbersome equipment along the dangerous sides to capture the action. But once a battle was over, it wasn’t so difficult to document the bodies on the ground.
A panel discussion on the growth of Instagram, tied to a FotoFocus-sponsored “Fotogram” project for which Instagram photos were fed into a screen at the temporary ArtHub structure in Washington Park, had food for thought. Jose Garcia, the ArtHub’s architect, somewhat jokingly characterized Instagram selfies as “a cry for help.” And Nion McEvoy, chairman and CEO of San Francisco’s Chronicle Books, observed that new technology — with its emphasis on swiftly delivered virtual transmissions rather than carefully crafted physical objects — has been met with a healthy, growing counter-movement encompassing vinyl records, locavore-oriented slow foods, letterpress printing and more. And, he said, Chronicle Books’ main business is still print.
John Waters drew a big crowd to Memorial Hall — FotoFocus had sold 200 more passes than seats (a pass was good for all Memorial Hall events, not just Waters) and was worried. Fortunately, not every passholder came to his Saturday night show — there were some empty seats on the sides. His show lived up to its This Filthy World title, as he joked about seemingly every sex act known to the human race (and maybe some known only to aliens).
But he also made humorous references to artists — he’s an art connoisseur — and some of his political observations had the kind of shocking in-your-face bite reminiscent of Lenny Bruce. For instance, on abortion, he said (and I paraphrase a little, since I didn’t take notes), “If you’re not going to love your child, don’t have him. I don’t want him to grow up to kill me."
Afterwards, he signed objects for fans and then joined a small group of FotoFocus organizers, supporters and guests for a late dinner on the Memorial Hall stage. As fate would have it, he sat next to me. Charming man.
Today starts the key stretch of FotoFocus Biennial activities at Memorial Hall, which begin at 8 p.m. with Triumph of the Wild, a show of animated firms by Martha Colburn accompanied by music from Thollem McDonas, Tatiana Berman and the four-person Constella Ensemble.
On Thursday, programming at Memorial Hall turns to the theme of Photography in Dialogue. At 1 p.m., the film Gerhard Richter Painting will be screened followed by a response from Anne Lindberg. At 3:30 p.m., FotoFocus Artistic Director Kevin Moore and Contemporary Arts Center Director Raphaela Platow will discuss the FotoFocus show at CAC, The One-Eyed Thief: Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs. And at 5 p.m., there will be a forum on another FotoFocus-sponsored show, Vivian Maier: A Quiet Pursuit.
On Friday, Memorial Hall activities center on Landscapes. At 1 p.m., the film Somewhere to Disappear, With Alec Soth screens, followed by a response from Matthew Porter. At 3 p.m. is a conversation with photographer Elena Dorfman and 21c Museum Hotel curator Alice Gray Stites. At 4:30, photographer David Benjamin Sherry — the subject of a FotoFocus show — will be in conversation with Elizabeth Siegel. And at 6 p.m., Jeff L. Rosenheim, photography curator at Metropolitan Museum, lectures on "Shadow and Substance: Photography and the American Civil War."
On Saturday, the subject is Urbanscapes and events get underway at 1 p.m. with the film Bill Cunningham New York, followed by a response from Ivan Shaw. At 3:30 is a forum on street photography with three curators — Moore, CAC's Steven Matijcio and Cincinnati Art Museum's Brian Sholis. At 5 p.m. comes a discussion on the Fotogram project at the ArtHub, which opens today in Washington Park. Participants include its architect, Jose Garcia. And the big event gets underway at 8 p.m., when John Waters presents This Filthy World.
Sunday offers three forums, starting at 1 p.m. when Jordan Tate and Aaron Cowan discuss the FotoFocus show Inpout/Output with artist Rachel de Joode. At 2:30 p.m. is a conversation with Fred and Ruth Bidwell on Bidwell Projects and Tate's Transformer Station, Cleveland art project. At 3:30 p.m., there is talk about film with Moore, Colburn and Kristen Erwin Schlotman.
Cincinnati-based design company Such + Such has been selected as one of 20 finalists for popular home furnishing retailer West Elm’s national “We Love Local Small Businesses Grant” contest. The grand prize winner will receive $25,000 and mentorship from West Elm while three runners-up will have their products featured in West Elm stores during the upcoming holiday season.
“The fact that we were chosen to move forward in this competition has blown us away,” said Alex Aeschbury, co-founder of Such + Such, in a press release. “We couldn't have gotten here without the support of Cincinnati, and it’s fitting that Cincinnati will help take our brand to the next level.” Such + Such’s founders Aeschbury and Zach Darmanian-Harris, former students at University of Cincinnati's College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning, have provided design and fabrication services for a variety of clients nationwide, as well as some of Cincinnati’s local favorites Neon’s Unplugged, Sloane Boutique and the Cincinnati Art Museum.
Coinciding with the contest, Such + Such in August launched a product line featuring hand-crafted furniture and home decor pieces including coffee tables, stools and wall clocks. All of the pieces from this inaugural line are sustainably made from naturally felled ash wood locally sourced from the Ohio Valley.
Such + Such joins 19 other small companies from around the U.S. whose creations include pottery, hand-dyed textiles, organic soap and skincare and handmade novelty goods. These finalists will be judged based on online votes, originality, design, story, commitment to local production and depth of product assortment. Public voting is open through Oct 14, and can be done here. The winners will be announced Nov 19.
There will be a voting party hosted by PB&J, a local PR and design firm that merged with Such + Such in 2013. The party will take place from 5:30-7:30 p.m. tonight at the PB&J offices at 1417 Main St. 1A in Over-the-Rhine. Rhinegeist Brewery will be providing refreshments.
There are several good productions onstage around town — check out CityBeat coverage of Hands on a Hardbody (a musical at ETC), The Great Gatsby (a classic American novel adapted for the stage at Cincy Shakes), Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club (a new adventure for the great detective at the Cincinnati Playhouse) and Tennessee Williams' prize-winning A Streetcar Named Desire (at the Covedale) — but if you've seen those, you have other choices for onstage entertainment. Here are three suggestions for shows a little more off the beaten path:
Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of
the Suicide Club opened last night at the Cincinnati
Playhouse in the Park. It's a new adventure for the Victorian sleuth. How can
that be, you might ask, if you're a Sherlock fan — this isn't a familiar title.
That's because playwright Jeffrey Hatcher picked up Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's
memorable detective, a master of deductive observation, and plugged him into a
tale of mystery and intrigue conceived by Robert Louis Stevenson back in 1878.
No spoilers here, but I will tell you that the plot of this show requires
closely following a complex tale of both personal and political intrigue.
Hatcher has set the story in 1914, on the brink of the first World War, and the
state of international relations in Europe is woven into the tale. But there's
nothing dry about this story, and Steven Hauck's performance as Sherlock is
very satisfying: He brings a quirky physicality as well as a sharp wit to the
character that makes him very engaging. Fans of Sherlock will not be disappointed
by this show. Through Oct. 4. Tickets ($30-$85): 513-421-3888.
I attended the opening of The Great Gatsby at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company last week. In my review, I said, "the production gets the story and the era right," and I added that CSC's Justin McCombs "perfectly embodies" Nick Carraway, the honest narrator of this Jazz Age tale of nouveau riche Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan, the one-time debutante who obsesses him. There's lots to like about this production, which captures the essence of lavish parties and the fast life of the Roaring Twenties. Cincy Shakes is committed to bringing classic literary works to the stage, and this production is a good example of how they get it done. Simon Levy's script hews close to F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1924 novel, and the company's actors bring life to the characters. Through Oct. 4. Tickets ($22-$36): 513-381-2273.
Everyone I've talked to about Hands on a Hardbody at Ensemble Theatre has been enthusiastic about the show that brings to life a contest to win a Nissan pickup truck by keeping one hand on it the longest. It's a true story (it was a 1997 documentary) and these feel like real people, down on their luck but dreaming what a difference that winning could make. The music is by Trey Anastasio (of Phish) and Amanda Green, and the script was written by Pulitzer Prize winner Doug Wright. ETC has staged memorable productions of his play I Am My Own Wife and his musical, Grey Gardens. But the real attraction is an excellent cast who make you believe in these people, struggling to stay away and outlast one another under the brutal sun beating down on the Texas parking lot of a Nissan dealership. It's a fine entertainment. Through Sept. 21. Tickets ($28-$44): 513-421-3555.
Just opened at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts is a production of Tennessee Williams's great American play, A Streetcar Named Desire. It's about a woman who's down on her luck but unwilling to admit it. When genteel Blanche DuBois moves with her pragmatic sister and her brutal, blue-collar husband, Stanley Kowalski, is a rude awakening that goes downhill fast. Through Oct. 5. Tickets ($-$): 513-241-6550.
If you've become a fan of shows in the intimate Clifton
Performance Theatre, you might want to check out The Riverside, a
play written and directed by local theater artist Kevin Crowley. It's a story
set in a Cincinnati bar in 1989 as locals follow the saga of Pete Rose's demise
in baseball, the fall of the Berlin Wall and Tiananmen Square. But the bar
itself is changing, too, impacting the lives of the family that owns it as well
as its patrons.
Through Sept. 27. Tickets ($25): https://cpt.tixato.com/buy/.
If you'd like to go to the theater every evening for the next four days, there are plenty of options for you to consider as the 2014-2015 season is getting underway on stages all over town. Here are some good choices to consider:
Hands on a Hardbody opened on Wednesday at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, and CityBeat reviewer Stacy Sims called it "effervescent" and "offbeat" in her review, giving it a Critic's Pick. I was there, too, and couldn't agree more about the infectious, heartfelt joy coming from the big cast of 15. The show is based on a true story (the subject of a 1997 documentary) about people in a downtrodden Texas town who enter a contest to win a Nissan pickup truck by outlasting others who vow to keep one hand on the vehicle. The cherry-red truck is as much a character as any of the contestants, the physical embodiment of their hopes and dreams — which take the form of songs by Trey Anastasio (of Phish) and Amanda Green. The script by Pulitzer Prize winner Doug Wright treats these diverse, down-on-their-luck folks with dignity, and the performers (who often perform with the truck as their dance partner) bring every one of them to life in vivid ways. This one is a must-see, a great way to kick-off ETC's theater season. Through Sept. 21. Tickets ($28-$44): 513-421-3555The Great Gatsby kicks off Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's season tonight. You didn't know Shakespeare wrote it? Well, he didn't. This theater company focuses on the Bard, to be sure, but it frequently branches out to present stage versions of other classics, in this case an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 classic about a mysterious nouveau-riche millionaire who's obsessed with a one-time debutante. Set in the Jazz Age and inspired by lavish parties the high-flying Fitzgerald attended on the prosperous North Shore of Long Island, Gatsby is a story about the ups and downs of the American Dream. Simon Levy's script is the only one authorized by Fitzgerald's estate, and Cincy Shakes is presenting its regional premiere. (And here's a tip: on opening nights at 6 p.m., the theater offers ticket holders a complimentary catered meal, beer and wine.) Through Oct. 4. Tickets ($22-$36): 513-381-2273
Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club opens next Thursday at the Cincinnati Playhouse, but previews begin for the season opener this Saturday (through Wednesday). Tickets for these performances are discounted, and you'll be seeing a show that's pretty much ready to go. Jeffrey Hatcher's script should be lots of fun for fans of the Victorian sleuth. He's taken the character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and dropped him into a tale conceived by another inventive writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, for a mash-up that will keep even Baker Street regulars guessing. Tickets: 513-421-3888
Serials! at Know Theatre, which has presented episodes of six Fringe-like shows at two-week intervals all summer long, culminates on Monday evening at 8 p.m. with finales of each tale. Who will win the ultimate fist fight with the Devil in Flesh Descending? How long can Luke really stay in his bedroom during The Funeral? Will we ever find out what's really happening in Mars vs. The Atom? These questions and more will be answered on Monday. Even if you've missed a few episodes, don't worry: Each 15-minute performance begins with a brief recap of the story so far. Zany and fun for anyone who's enjoyed the annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival. Tickets ($15): 513-300-5669
Finally, a tip for an eye-opening theater experience next weekend: On Sunday, Sept. 14, the Cincinnati area's first-ever South Asian Theater Festival happens in an all-day event at the Anderson Theater (7850 Five Mile Rd.). Five plays are scheduled to be presented, as well as panel discussions, seven hours of programming in all. The day begins at 12:30 p.m. and is set to conclude around 8 p.m. A limited number of tickets remain ($19-$29): SATFCincy.org