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by Steve Rosen 10.24.2012
Posted In: Visual Art at 12:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
inside a contained container

Even Without a Chicken Dance, FotoFocus is a Worthy ‘Octoberfest’

From now on, when anyone mentions “Octoberfest” in Cincinnati, I’m going to think first of FotoFocus. This year, its first, it has clearly established itself as an artistically meaningful and rewarding addition to Cincinnati’s cultural calendar. The next is planned for 2014.

It is also, like that other Oktoberfest (which actually occurs in September), fun. No, it doesn’t have the World’s Largest Chicken Dance, but it may have come up with something even better in Contained: Gateway Arts Festival, which opened last Saturday and continues with limited hours through Nov. 3.

It was produced by the Requiem Project, which is managing and hoping to restore Over-the-Rhine’s Emery Theatre (where there is a Mike Disfarmer photo exhibit that I blogged about last week). Saturday’s opening was hampered by cold weather that kept attendance small on the grounds of Grammer’s in Over-the-Rhine. (Grammer’s is a place that’s probably seen quite a few Oktoberfests in its day.) But the weather didn’t dampen the creative imagination that went into the event.

Using 11 trailer-size steel shipping containers as gallery walls, artists displayed their photography and video-based work, some interactive, as visitors wandered in and out. The standards were quite high and one project — David Rosenthal’s “Everything at Home Depot (Series)’’ — struck me as outstanding.

Installed in vertical pieces on fiberboard along the interior sides of the container, the color heat-transfer prints set out to do what the title suggests. In this environment — with the container’s metal sides, the wood floor and glaring fluorescent lights – the whole project looked just right — a melding of the artistic and the industrial, the soulful and the soulless. If this is part of a larger series (as the title suggests), it deserves to be seen in total. But one hopes future showings will get an environment as cool as this.

In a corner of the grounds, behind one crate and out of direct view, a band played suitably spacey music. After awhile, musicians moved atop a crate to play music with a pronounced electronic component. Meanwhile, video projections were displayed high off the building’s sides — you could see the images when approaching the site and it was really exciting.

The whole festival, itself, worked as an art installation. It will be open again this Friday from 6-10 p.m. (it’s ideal at dark), 2-5 p.m. Saturday and Nov. 3 by appointment at info@emerytheatre.com. It’s definitely worth a visit, even if not that easy to get to.

Another show you need to see — partly because of its excellence and partly because it’s in a space rarely open to the public — is the Using Photography exhibit at downtown’s Michael Lowe Gallery. He is a private dealer, so it’s a treat to see his elegant, uncluttered two-floor gallery open to the public. Drawing on his own collection, he’s put together a show that works as both top-notch fine-art photography and as a historical exhibition.

In this case, the history that the show addresses is that of the conceptual/performance art world of the 1970s. Pivotal names in international contemporary art’s development are represented here — Marina Abramovic, Vito Acconci, Gerhard Richter, Michael Kelly, Ed Ruscha, Gilbert and George and many more.

With the richness of work represented, and it way it stretches our definition of photography and time-based art, it’s one of FotoFocus’ best shows. To just pick one piece, I was especially moved by Christian Boltanski’s five touched-up photographs comprising 1974’s “Anniversaire,” or “The Birthday.” I am used to the French artist’s solemn, sobering, heart-rending installations that use photography to remember the Holocaust. They are so strong you wonder if they must drain the artist of all joie de vivre. Yet here he is happy in this work, and the meaning of that happiness is revelatory if you know his history. Even if you don’t, it’s a generous and warm piece.

This show originally was going to be open just briefly, but Lowe has agreed to stay open noon-4 p.m. weekdays through the end of the month. His gallery is at 905 Vine St. Plan a downtown lunch trip around it.

Meanwhile, only up through this Thursday is Photogenus at the Reed Gallery inside University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Art, Architecture & Planning. Put together by Jordan Tate, DAAP photography professor, and gallery director Aaron Cowan, this looks at how today’s international artists use photography in a digital age. 

It’s a nice companion to Lowe’s show, as one chronicles breakthroughs from the 1970s (some of which we’re still trying to understand) and one shows how today’s international artists are using photography to make new breakthroughs. Much of it is quite out-there and left me quizzical about individual work’s obscure intent and technique.  But some were very striking, like Anthony Lepore’s pairing of a photo (an archival ink print) of a salt field with a piece of carpet of roughly the same color.

I had written earlier about how eager I was to see Nancy Rexroth’s photographs at downtown’s YWCA Women’s Art Gallery as part of FotoFocus. The show consists of previously unprinted images from her influential Iowa project of the early 1970s — she used a toy camera to capture fleeting glimpses of everyday life in rural Ohio.

There was always the chance the black-and-white work had been left unprinted for a reason all these decades, but I’m happy to report it’s an excellent, evocative show — underscoring just how strong a body of work Iowa is. Besides the ghostly “Clara in the Closet, Carpenter, OH,” previously published in CityBeat, I also loved “House Vibration, Dayton, OH, 1976,” in which the blurry focus produces an unsteady image that makes one think an earthquake is occurring. It’s a great metaphor for the here-today-gone-tomorrow nature of life. This show will be up through Jan. 10 — Rexroth shares the space with Judi Parks and Jane Alden Stevens.


Watch for Contributing Visual Art Editor Steven Rosen’s FotoFocus blog postings all month. Contact him at srosen@citybeat.com.
 
 
by Steven Rosen 10.16.2012
Posted In: Visual Art, COMMUNITY at 09:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
disfarmer

Finding the FotoFocus Art that Transcends Categories

After the second full week of FotoFocus, I’ve begun to realize that there are way more shows and events out there than one person can get to. (Or, if you do get to them all, to remember what you’ve seen.) It’s also clear that you can begin to roughly pair into categories the kinds of shows that are out there — art photography and photojournalism, still photography and video, portraiture and everything else, contemporary work and vintage (or historic).

And then there are those that touch numerous bases — either because that’s what the artists intended or because time has changed the meaning or our appreciation of the work. In the former category, and so far the work that towers over everything else I’ve seen, is Doug and Mike Starn’s Gravity of Light in the decommissioned Holy Cross Church at Mount Adams Monastery. This installation prominently uses photographs without letting them define what its purpose or meaning is about. I’ve written about it previously and may do so again, so powerful is it. It’s up through year’s end, and I hope everyone realizes how important an artwork it is and goes to see it. Go here for details.

But two other very different exhibits deserve mention in this regard, too. On the second floor of the Emery Theatre, through the end of the month, is an exhibit of estate-authorized prints — from the original glass-plate negatives — of the mysterious Mike Disfarmer’s Depression-era portraits of residents of the small Arkansas town of Heber Springs. Here is work that, whatever its original intention, contemporary thought has turned into art photography.

It can be discussed and debated whether Disfarmer, who died in 1959) was engaged in what he thought was a commercial venture or whether he was after something else… his own quest for an artful statement. But the work today is important as something other than straight photo-documentation, though it is that. The photographs are haunting missives from the place Greil Marcus called “the old, weird America” — a spiritual zone, a cosmic baptismal font, from where much of our contemporary culture can trace its origins.

Disfarmer was born Mike Meyers, but seems to have chosen “disfarmer” as a statement that he didn’t want to fit into the agricultural lifestyle of his hometown. He taught himself photography and built a studio, first on his mother’s back porch and then in the heart of town. According to the Disfarmer website, he obsessed over getting the right light — one wonders what his subjects, for whom time was money, thought as the minutes ticked on.

But they came, sometimes dressed in their best and sometimes dressed in the best they had. What resulted — and we are fortunate his work has been preserved, which itself was a struggle — is a different take on Depression Era poverty than the federal Farm Security Administration photos. Taken by outsiders, those placed — with warmth and humanity — their subjects in their surrounding hardscrabble environment. They have a sociological dimension.

But these remove their subjects from their environment and seem psychological. In a photograph like “First Born,” you have to wonder if Disfarmer ever told his subjects to say “cheese.” The young father, dressed up nicely and wearing a hat, has a proud but slightly furtive gaze that renders his emotions somewhat inscrutable. He sits, holding a child whose face is almost pouting and whose staring eyes are disturbing. The two look apprehensive, either about the photograph or about what life has in store for them. If Disfarmer was after that effect, maybe he was some kind of prophet.

By the way, I’m not sure how many people know this exhibit is here. FotoFocus literature didn’t list it as an ongoing show, but rather a part of a one-day event – last week’s Emery concert by guitarist Bill Frisell/858 Quartet of his composition Musical Portraits from Heber Springs. But the Emery is keeping it up through the month. To see it, e-mail info@emerytheatre.com with your phone number and times you’re available, or call 513-262-8242.

Another show that crosses boundaries in interesting ways is Santeri Tuori’s The Forest project at University of Cincinnati’s Phillip M. Meyers Jr. Memorial Gallery (for hours, go here). Tuori is from Finland — a welcome international addition to FotoFocus — and this show was curated by Judith Turner-Yamamoto, a FotoFocus staffer, with assistance from the Finnish consulate.

The artist spent five years observing — in film and still photographs — the effect of light, seasonal change and weather on a remote, pristine, Finnish island. In “Forest (Tree and Pond),” his work is condensed via editing into a relatively tight time span and projected onto a gray-painted section of a gallery wall. While it looks like we are a watching a specific spot on the island change over the seasons, I’m told it’s a composite. (I find that remarkable.) Tuori has created this slightly wavering mirage of an image to show how art can turn what we think of as mundane into something momentous. He has photographed elusive “change.”

I appreciate the thoughtfulness and hard work of this effort — which is accompanied by a soundscape by Mikko Hynninen — but did find the slight blurriness of the piece distracting. I preferred the three smaller-scale pieces in the gallery’s other room. Here, video images of trees are projected onto, and over, black-and-white photographs of similar trees, providing a three-dimensional effect — a ghostly sense of movement. That happens even though, unlike “Tree and Pond,” these works are not out to simulate an evolving time span.

Photography, like all art, isn’t meant to stand still. Tuori is at the forefront of finding new ways to show that.


Watch for Contributing Visual Art Editor Steven Rosen’s FotoFocus blog postings all month. Contact him at srosen@citybeat.com.

 
 
by Steve Rosen 10.08.2012
Posted In: Visual Art at 10:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
hawk photo

FotoFocus Takes Cincinnati By Storm

Having wrapped up a very busy first (extended) weekend of FotoFocus activities, I’m humbled by the fact that I only got to a portion of the exhibits and events occurring under the month-long, regional photography festival’s umbrella.

Before it’s over, more than 70 shows and related special events — like this Wednesday’s concert at the Emery Theatre by Bill Frisell/858 Quarter, featuring musical portraits inspired by photographer Mike Disfarmer’s work — will have taken place. I’m wondering if FotoFocus, like the National Park Service, should have a passport that can be stamped at each site of a sponsored activity. (Quite a few exhibits will continue past October – check here for schedules.)

“Umbrella,” by the way, is an apt word to use in one respect. Sideshow, the thoroughly charming outdoor kick-off party that took place Friday night, was bedeviled by rain and cold temperatures. As a result, attendance was small. That was disappointing because the alleys of downtown’s Backstage Theatre District had been turned into a colorful, imaginative, Fellini-esque carnival for the evening, with handmade booths, games of chance and photography opportunities.

A stage with a theatrical backdrop served to host A Hawk and a Hacksaw, a New Mexico duo — Jeremy Barnes on accordion and Heather Trost on violin — whose music had an East European/Middle Eastern flavor and whose musicianship was impeccable. They would have fit well at MidPoint. In fact, the Backstage Theatre District would make a great outdoor venue next year for MidPoint, which, as Mike Breen pointed out, needs a stronger downtown presence.

On Wednesday, I attended the preview opening of Doug and Mike Starn’s Gravity of Light in Holy Cross Church at the Mount Adams Monastery. I had gone a couple weeks earlier for a test, which I described in last week’s Big Picture column, where the noise and flying sparks from the giant carbon arc lamp’s scared me even as the magnitude and, well, gravity of the monumental photographs that its light illuminated astonished me.

On my second visit, with maybe two dozen other guests present, Gravity of Light wasn’t quite as scary — not when you see people using the carbon arc lamp’s brilliant white light to read their smart phone email. Ah, technology! But it’s still a profound exhibit — a major installation that uses photography as an intrinsic part of a created environment – and I can’t imagine that anyone interested in contemporary art or FotoFocus would want to miss it. And afterward, you’ll want to discuss what it means.

Two other exhibits I attended over the weekend were Anthony Luensman’s TAINT at the Weston Art Gallery and Let's Face It: Photographic Portraits by Melvin Grier, Michael Kearns and Michael Wilson at Kennedy Heights Art Center. Luensman is one of our most talented local artists, especially ingenious with installations involving sound and light, but I didn’t get a clear indication of how or why the presence of photography (and video) is supposed to crucially matter in this mixed-media show.

The Kennedy Heights exhibit had some remarkable large-scale black-and-white portraits by all three accomplished local photographers. Grier and Wilson, in their Giclee prints made from film negatives, got remarkable expressiveness their subjects like “Robert” and “Tony” (Grier) and “Thomas” and “Lamayah” (Wilson). Those Wilson photos, and some others, frame the pupils of their subjects’ eyes with a tiny white square, a stunning effect. In several of his large Giclee prints from digital photographs, Kearns achieves clarity of detail so rich (on “Chuck,” which is Wussy’s Chuck Cleaver, and “Andre”) that you could stand there and count every strand of the subjects’ hair. I don’t know who Andre is, but the way he is posed with head slightly upward and a triumphant smile emerging from a mouth that appears to be missing some teeth makes him heroically human. It’s a meaningful show.

On Thursday, I attended the Cincinnati Art Museum’s reception for Herb Ritts: L.A. Style, the Getty Center-organized show of the late photographer’s black-and-white prints. Beautifully installed, this exhibit features Ritts’ fashion and celebrity work, as well as his stylized, erotically charged studies of the nude male and female torso. The show doesn’t so much chart his “progression” from high fashion to high art as it spotlights the connection between fashion and art. It also underscores that the eternal human quest for perfection is about the body as much as the mind. (Kathy Schwartz will have more on this show soon.)

For opening weekend, the art museum’s Chief Curator James Crump — also FotoFocus’ co-chair — brought to town Paul Martineau, the Getty’s curator for the Ritts exhibit, and Charles Churchward, a magazine design and art director who knew Ritts and has written Herb Ritts: The Golden Hour.

Martineau, it turns out, is at work on a major Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit to be presented by the Getty and Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2016. (Getty Research Institute and LACMA recently acquired some 2,000 of his photographs, and the Getty already had acquired the archives of Sam Wagstaff, Mapplethorpe’s collector/lover.)

Martineau told me it might travel. Cincinnati would be a perfect venue for it — Crump has made a documentary about Mapplethorpe and Wagstaff, the authoritative Black White + Gray. Is it too early to start a Facebook campaign to bring that Mapplethorpe exhibit to Cincinnati? Any volunteers?


Watch for Contributing Visual Art Editor Steven Rosen’s FotoFocus blog postings all month. Contact him at srosen@citybeat.com.
 
 
by Nolan Shea 04.16.2012
Posted In: Arts community, Visual Art, Street Art at 09:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)
 
 
mrt-lp-cb-1

Light Painting: Matt Treece's Story

“Light painting and graffiti are very similar,” says Matt Treece, 23-year-old local photographer and light painter. “I realized this when I found myself hopping through a shattered first story window on the backside of an abandoned factory on the East Side at 2:30 a.m., alone, with my backpack on, creeping around in the darkness looking for a good spot.”

Treece is searching for that “magical spot.” He doesn’t risk the charge of vandalism like graffiti artists, but he still risks a trespassing charge with every foray into the night.

Light painting is a photography technique that involves moving a camera or adding a light source while operating with a slow shutter speed. The resultant images include colorful, swirly lines and other creative effects. Like graffiti artists, “both of us trespass illegally. Both of us are night owls. Both of us have explored tunnels, creeks, bridges and abandoned buildings and have gained such a good understanding about the layout of the city,” Treece says.

Suffice it to say, Treece’s understanding of all the nooks and crannies of the city is far more in-depth than the average daylight city dweller.

Before his nightly jaunt into the darkness, Treece packs his equipment bag. At first glance, you wouldn’t think anything is out of the ordinary. Treece stuffs a Nikon D90 camera, remote shutter release, Nikon SB-600 Flash and two tripods into the main compartment of the bag. But the smaller compartments receive the stranger tools of the trade.

He reveals children’s toys, ones that light up. Treece begins to stuff light swords, mini color changing glow sticks, six different kinds of flashlights, laser pointers, finger LEDs, glow sticks and his custom nine LED light orb tool into every remaining compartment of his equipment bag.

All that’s missing is the party favors. At this point, it’s almost unclear if he’s going to a rave or going out to light paint.

Treece almost forgets the most important tool: batteries — lots of them.

Light painting hasn’t always been Treece’s passion, however. “I’ve always been interested in art, but my interest in light painting started sometime around May or June of last year,” he says. “I was browsing the Internet randomly and saw a picture of what looked like a spinning waterfall of sparks. I had seen light painting prior to this photo, but it really didn’t click that these [light painters] were using super long exposures and crazy light sources to create works of art.”

That night, Treece spent hours reading up tutorials on the website lightpaintingphotography.com and a particular online community that called itself “the light junkies.” There he learned that it was plausible to make his own contribution to the light painting community.

Not all places are created equal in the light painting community. Living in Cincinnati is both wonderful and a pain. Clifton Heights, Treece’s main stomping ground, provides him with an incredible amount of light pollution, which can be attributed to the area’s attempt to curb crime activity.

Cincinnati still provides an ample amount of opportunity to create. “[Cincinnati] has some of the most bad-ass tunnels built in the early 1900s. … Cincinnati also has a creek system, which over time had to be cemented because of industrial waste,” Treece says. “These tunnels and channels have created some of the best spaces for light painting.”