Focusing on 2012's visual arts highlights
0 Comments · Wednesday, December 26, 2012
This may seem a strange way to start a
review of the year in Cincinnati’s visual arts, but the piece that stays
with me the most — haunts me, really — doesn’t even fit any traditional
definition of art.
by Steven Rosen
While there are FotoFocus shows and events continuing into
November and even longer, the October festival formally closed Saturday night
with a boisterous, picture-perfect celebration, the Carnevil Halloween party at
Newport’s Thompson House (formerly the Southgate House).
All rooms were jam-packed with people in imaginative
costumes, and in the ballroom the DAAP Girls (outfitted for the night as the
DAAP Witches) belted out a funky, soulful, garage-rock version of
“Ghostbusters” far better than the cutesy original.
Best of all, for those who remember coughing and hacking
their way through the old Southgate House, the place was non-smoking for this
event and had signs up everywhere to enforce that. If it can keep up the
pleasant smoke-free environment, Thompson House might just become the nightclub
that counts in Greater Cincinnati. Still not sure if that will make me turn out
for the upcoming Dying Fetus/Malignancy concert, but the place is definitely
back on my radar.
Carnevil’s turnout also proved that FotoFocus, as an event,
was on people’s radar. There had been some questioning of that earlier in the
week, after moderate turnouts for two appearances by nationally significant
photographers at Cincinnati Art Museum’s Fath Auditorium.
gave the prestigious FotoFocus Lecture there on Oct. 24, presenting a slide
show of the past 12 years of her sometimes-eyebrow-raising performative-video
and still-photography work.
For one project, she wandered around truck stops and invited
truckers to dance with her in their cabs. In another, she traveled across
Canada by train and threw her underwear out the window each day, photographing
the colorful results. (As far as I know, she did not get arrested for
littering.) Someone asked about the inherent danger in some of her early work,
which involved putting herself in erotic situations with strange men. “I look
back at my early work and fear for my life,” she said. “But I’m really glad I
made that work.”
Incidentally, one of her more recent projects — for which
she showed slides — was to photograph herself crying everyday for one year. The
“one year” motif seems to be such a strong one that some curator somewhere
should devote a show to its variations. There’s plenty of material right here.
At Michael Lowe’s Downtown gallery, site of the “Using Photography” FotoFocus
exhibit featuring work by 1970s-era (and beyond) Conceptual Artists, there is
an example of On Kawara’s “I Got Up” series. For 11 years (1968-1979), he sent
friend picture postcards stamped with the time that he arose each day.
And when Todd Pavlisko was in town last week to plan for his “Docent”
rifle-firing project that occurred Monday at Cincinnati Art Museum, he said that one piece in his resultant museum show next year will be
displaying all the loose change he’s collected in a year. (He will gold-plate
At the other appearance of a photographer at CAM last week,
Chief Curator James Crump discussed the future of photography books with
Minnesota photographer/publisher Alec Soth and Darius Himes, a gallerist whose
Radius Books publishes unusual photography creations.
Some in the audience wished the event would have featured
much more of Soth and his fascinating photojournalistic work. He did discuss a
current project, in which he and Brad Zellar are photographing election-eve
everyday life in Michigan for his LBM Dispatch, which tries to quickly publish
and distribute photo essays. (The work will then be displayed at Detroit’s
But Himes did express admiration for the strangest Conceptualist
book project I’ve heard of in a long time. That would be photographer Mishka
Henner’s printed-on-demand Astronomical, twelve
506-page volumes representing, in total, a scale model of the solar system from
the sun to Pluto. Many of the pages are blank, representing the great distances
between planets in space. Himes did not say if you must order the whole set or
just your favorite volume, but you can find out more at here.
I was able to spend some time last week with Barry Andersen,
photography professor emeritus at Northern Kentucky University who has been a
strong, forceful advocate for the importance of this form as both an artistic
medium and a critical societal observer. His own show, the now-concluded Sky, Earth and Sea at Notre Dame Academy
in Park Hills, served as a satisfying retrospective of thirty years of his
work. Especially lovely were his gorgeous aerial-shot” Cloudscapes,” vivid
inkjet prints from negative scans.
And as a curator, he put together a superb, sadly also
now-concluded, show at NKU called Reporting
Back, which surveyed the work of 14 documentary photographers whose
thematic interests covered the globe. Each one’s work was presented as a series
of photographs, a thematically related suite, to remind us of the journalistic
impact of the photo essay. Ashley Gilbertson’s quietly moving “Bedrooms of the
Fallen” visited the bedrooms of soldiers slain in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their solemnity
was balanced by Jim Dow’s colorful portraits of idiosyncratically appealing,
retro-Americana buildings. You can learn more about the show — and be
introduced to some fine photographers — here.
FotoFocus has the potential to shine a lens on fine
Cincinnati photographers of the past whose reputations could use a revival. One
of the best shows to achieve that goal this year was Cincinnati Museum Center’s
Photographic Legacy of Paul Briol:
1909-1955, which closes Thursday. Briol’s black-and-white images of the
rhythms and architecture of Cincinnati life have a dreamy beauty, partly
because he was not adverse to stripping in more dramatic skies and otherwise heightening
an image’s dramatic effect.
The populism and humanism in his work are evident — Lewis
Hine perhaps was an inspiration. An elderly African-American couple sits while
the woman peels a potato; children in what seems to be an aged urban schoolroom
pose with their stuffed animals. Those, along with images of the skyline, a
roller coaster, Fountain Square, the riverfront, Rabbit Hash, Ky.’s general
store, give life to that era’s Cincinnati.
Actually, the photo of his that moved me the most was in a
different show, the concluded Images of
the Great Depression: A Documentary Portrait of Ohio. It was by far the
best thing in that exhibit. His
contribution, an extraordinarily composed photo from 1935 called “Waiting for
Work,” shows the looming shadows of men against a room’s wall. A sign reads,
“Dirty Men Will Not Be Sent Out.” Briol may have arranged this image rather
than just observed and captured it, but no matter. It magnificently speaks to
the despair and denigration that the Depression brought.
One hopes 2014’s FotoFocus will find room to spotlight a few
other Cincinnati photographers of the past who could use rediscovery — perhaps
Nelson Ronsheim or George Rosenthal. Or, if you have ideas, send them along to me at email@example.com. In the Nov. 14
Big Picture column in CityBeat, I’ll address some suggestions for how we can
keep the momentum going now that the interest level for photography has been