by Steven Rosen
3 days ago
Posted In: Visual Art
at 12:20 PM | Permalink
assault of Mitch McConnell ads has you thinking Kentucky must be the most
hopelessly unprogressive state ever, a FotoFocus Biennial-related lecture last Sunday
provided another take on the Bluegrass State.
speaker, who also presented slides, was the veteran Lexington photographer Guy
Mendes, who with Carey Gough has the exhibition Blue Roots and Uncommon Wealth: The Kentucky Photographs at
Over-the-Rhine’s Iris BookCafe, 1331 Main St., through Jan. 25. His
presentation, organized by Iris’ photography curator William Messer, was at Mr.
Pitiful’s bar, close to Iris.
active in Kentucky arts, public television production and higher education
since the late 1960s, has been collected by Ashley Judd, Willie Nelson, Maker’s
Mark (he’s very proud of that) and the New Orleans and Cincinnati art museums,
among others. At Mr. Pitiful’s, he made a compelling case for Lexington as a
center for progressive creative thought — in photography, especially — that has
had a broad influence on our times.
college town (University of Kentucky), Lexington maybe has been better known
for its basketball than its radicalism, but Mendes made it seem like it could
hold its own with Berkeley, Calif., Ann Arbor, Mich., or Madison, Wis., in any history of
presentation focused on a group he became part of in the late 1960s, the Lexington
Camera Club, active from the 1950s to the early 1970s (and recently revived).
While, like other camera clubs it attracted its share of hobbyists, it also had
stalwart support from open-minded professionals with an experimentalist bent.
and showed slides of work from the Camera Club’s first golden era. The
accomplishments of these now-deceased members was impressive — Van Deren Coke
(who went on to become director of the George Eastman House); Robert May, who
specialized in multiple exposures; James Baker Hall, a poet (and former state
Poet Laureate) and photographer whose haunting series of images featuring
collaged family photos may have been a way to deal with his mother’s suicide
when he was a child.
Club photographer, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, has become recognized since his 1972
death as one of America’s most memorable — and spookiest. His black-and-white
shots of children and adults wearing masks in strange settings are still
was restive in the anti-Vietnam War days, and Mendes published an underground newspaper
called Blue-Tail Fly and was involved
in protests. And as he became friends with local writers Wendell Berry and Ed
McClanahan, his literary and photographic worlds began to merge. (Both still
are active today.)
In Mendes’ show
at Iris, those two figures are in probably the two most striking photographs. One is
a 2012 portrait of Berry, on a farm in Henry County, with his horses Nip and
Jed grazing behind him. It’s sheer happenstance, but the horses’ placement is
such as to create the illusion is that their heads extend from his shoulders. Messer
refers to them as “horse angel wings,” and it’s a great tribute to Berry, an
environmentalist as well as a writer. The photo gives the elderly man a
is involved in the weirdest photograph in the show — 1972’s “The Fabulous
Little Enis & Go Go Girls of Boots Bar.” This photo (in a tarted-up version)
accompanied McClanahan’s article about this colorful musician in Playboy. It depicts the left-handed,
backwards-holding guitarist Little Enis and a chorus line of scantily clad
women outside the bar.
The late Carlos
Toadvine’s stage name “Enis,” Mendes told his audience, was a play on the
nickname given to Elvis Presley as “Elvis the Pelvis” — you get the point.
Mendes said Enis was a fabulous guitarist but the working-class Boots Bar was a
tough place for scruffy, hippy-looking artists like McClanahan and himself in
1972. On their first visit there, McClanahan and Mendes, were greeted by a
flying beer bottle. (On the Internet,
there is a photo of long-haired college-age young men admiring Little Enis’ act,
so maybe the bar got a little safer with time.)
show also features color photographs of Kentucky music-related sites by Gough,
who considers Mendes a mentor.
impact on the arts is fascinating in other ways, too. The writer Bobbie Ann
Mason attended UK, as did the great character actor Harry Dean Stanton. (There
is now a film festival there in his honor.) Walter Tevis based his novel The Hustler on a pool hall there. Punk
icon Richard Hell was born and raised there, as was Cincinnati artist/composer
be something in the bluegrass. It’s captured in Mendes’ photographs.
0 Comments · Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Vivian Maier is the art world’s current
mystery artist du jour.
Cincinnati’s FotoFocus Biennial widens its scope as a top recurring photography event
0 Comments · Wednesday, October 1, 2014
Just by adding the word “Biennial” to its official name for 2014, FotoFocus
— which occurs this month in some 50 venues throughout Greater
Cincinnati — is aiming to raise its importance and artistic
0 Comments · Wednesday, October 1, 2014
I was able to peruse Kirkland’s latest monograph — Douglas Kirkland: A Life in Pictures
— and what struck me, right from the start, was his voice.
0 Comments · Wednesday, September 10, 2014
The buildings in these photographs seem outside
of time, existing in a private universe where shadows exist only to
point up architectural features.
0 Comments · Wednesday, August 27, 2014
To some, the very notion of billboards (or outdoor signage in general) being artwork or hosting artful images instead of give-us-your-money advertising is confusing. But it’s getting more common.
Local art collector Sara Vance Waddell shares her collection of prominent feminist art
0 Comments · Wednesday, August 13, 2014
I go with my gut,” says Sara Vance Waddell
about her philosophical approach to collecting art. And it is clear that
trusting her instinct has done her well as the marketing and
advertising CEO/president of her own media business.
0 Comments · Wednesday, June 4, 2014
At a luncheon/press conference Thursday
in New York, the FotoFocus Biennial will announce details of its 2014
activities in Cincinnati for this year’s Oct. 8-Nov. 1 run.
by Alexis O'Brien
Posted In: Visual Art
at 11:19 AM | Permalink
If you’ve been to the Cincinnati Art Museum recently, and
specifically since March 22, you’ve probably found yourself lingering among
portraits in a corner of the second floor. (Up the grand staircase and in Room
212, the space now designated as the museum’s photography gallery.)
And it might’ve been Jean Renoir’s doing. The filmmaker’s
honest, sideways smirk that’s good at whispering you in to laugh at life at or
For me, he was the one whose 77-year-old face, through the
gap of a narrow doorway, led me in to look upon his ruthlessness magnified, given
new life by Richard Avedon and brought to light by Brian Sholis, the museum’s
new curator of photography.
“It wasn’t until the 1970s when museums started taking
photography seriously,” Sholis says. “The art world stopped writing it off as
so mechanical and lacking real talent, so museums like this one began acquiring
a lot of it.”
Which explains the 4,000-field, photographical rundown Sholis
was sent before moving from New York to Cincinnati to take his curatorial
position in 2013. The database was a list of every museum-owned piece of
photography, and while studying it, Sholis noticed a pattern: two
recognizable names in one row, repeated. An artist by an artist. Portraits of the Artist. You see where
this is going.
“For people who don’t know much about the history of
photography, they’re given another chance to connect here, and I wanted my
first exhibition to be as welcoming as possible,” Sholis says. “Here, there’s
twice the chance of hitting upon someone a visitor could recognize.”
Out of four-dozen artists-by-artists photographs, Sholis narrowed
his exhibition selection to 14 of them, presenting Frida Kahlo by Bernard
Silberstein, Picasso (with his son Claude) by Robert Capa and Miles Davis by
Lee Friedlander, among others.
The dancer in me was especially drawn to modern mover Merce
Cunningham by Barbara Morgan, who took Cunningham’s photo like he crafted his
dances — with good faith in chance.
She shot the double-exposure by retrogressing her film after
an initial shot and snapping Cunningham again in another position, not
realizing the two bodies as one image until they’d been developed, much like
Cunningham frequently rolled a die to dictate his movements and their
And while, like the individual pieces themselves, the idea
of the exhibition is stimulating and timely (I don’t need to tell anyone about
the portrait-in-the-form-of-iPhone-selfie phenomenon), the placement of the
pieces is also noteworthy, and very thoroughly Sholis-thought-through.
The Mexican artist portraits are grouped together alongside
a couple of painted face performers; partners in work and life, John Cage and
Merce Cunningham share an intimate space on a portion of the gallery’s west
wall; and Miles Davis is situated alone and dominantly, glaring over onlookers
while avoiding awkward eye contact with Renoir (after being moved when Sholis
saw the staring contest).
“These are more than just casual snapshots even though they
look that way,” Sholis says. “These are kind of dialogues between the artists
themselves and their creators, the photographers.”
And, of course, you.