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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com with your phone number and times you’re available, or call 513-262-8242.
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.”
Photography, like all art, isn’t meant to stand still. Tuori is at the forefront of finding new ways to show that.
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?
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.”