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The 20th Annual PRC Juried Exhibition is an exclamation point to several anniversaries for the Boston institution and they have done themselves proud in this latest iteration of their national competition for emerging photographers. For starters, to honor their collective milestones, the Photographic Resource Center enlisted a chorus of five past curators and directors of exhibitions to select the 13 exhibiting artists from 246 international entries. Kudos to Anita Douthat, John P. Jacob, Leslie K. Brown, George Slade and Francine Weiss (in order of their PRC tenures)!
On display through June 26, 2016, each artist is exhibiting several works, creating not only a deeper sense of each one’s aesthetic, but allowing a discernible conversation between the pieces. On the surface, a range of themes and topics are presented, but I thought almost all of the 13 artists addressed one main idea – identity. Not surprisingly, this took 13 different forms, from the intensely personal to the metaphysical, and it provided an intriguing picture of the direction of contemporary photography.
There are an abundance of portraits, both with and without actual subjects in the frame, and it is fascinating to see how each artist uses either their absence or presence to evoke powerful emotions. There is melodrama: Lissa Rivera plays both vividly and tenderly with gender exploration, using her partner as muse, in her series “Beautiful Boy” while Toni Pepe’s series “The Second Moment” references the drama of mythical and Mannerist paintings in her theatrical self-portraits contrasting myths and fantasies of the mother-infant relationship with Pepe’s personal experience. Stylistically understated in comparison, the arresting realism of Michael Joseph’s series “Lost and Found” is stirring in its revelations of vulnerability beneath the toughness displayed by young vagabonds in his intimate B&W portraits.
Tsar Fedorsky’s series “The Light Under The Door” addresses psychological fears and exploration, symbolized by her nuanced use of dark and light, in ethereal B&W photographs linking her real and imaginary worlds, while Leah Cooper’s “Projections and Resemblances” literally layer projections of old family slides onto current personal spaces to create images that revive her history, including a video projection in which she tentatively superimposes photographs of her parents’ and grandparents’ faces onto her own (feature image).
The search for identity through an historical framework is the approach of both Astrid Reischwitz in her series “Stories from the Kitchen Table” and Larry Volk in his series “The 4 Questions”. Reischwitz inventively knits together archival and current images like a patchwork quilt from her ancestral German farmhouse, while Volk joins four impressionistic images infused with color and texture to evoke the mystery of his mother’s shrouded Jewish childhood (accompanied by a video presentation).
References to absent individuals are equally biographical. Terri Warpinski’s series “Death(s)trip” recalls the fatal shootings of escapees from the former East Germany in her haunting color landscapes of those eerily unscarred locations today. Sarah Malakoff’s series “Interior Portraits” uses formally composed color interiors to infer the character of its missing inhabitants via the evocative artwork they choose to adorn their walls. In his series “Blinds”, Jonathan Sharlin implies the complexities of a hunter’s mindset – at once predatory and meditative – in B&W photographs that contrast the blinds they build for stalking with the surrounding overgrowth of the natural environment.
Physical nature is utilized in symbolic imagery by three artists to address questions of existence and mortality. “Nothing is permanent”, declares John Steck, Jr. in his series “Lament”, in which he leaves his photographs of cherished people and things sensitive to light, so that they fade and disappear over time, like memories. In her series “Listening to the Bees”, Thea Dodds presents two installations of albumen prints of honey bees (created using eggs from her NH farm), in a mosaic reminiscent of a honeycomb or cut and folded into origami flowers, illustrating the life cycle and delicate inter-dependence of this threatened species in the natural world. In “Cosmos”, a metaphysical consideration of life’s unforeseeable forces, Marcus DeSieno applies microscopic bacteria to photographic film of appropriated images of outer space. The bacterial growth alters the film and its layers in an unpredictable abstraction of color and texture, questioning not only the basic archival tenets of photography, but our human ability to control and preserve our surroundings, whether microscopic or cosmic. De Sieno’s swirling color images are visually and philosophically far out.
EXPOSURE 2016 is a surprisingly cohesive exhibit, undoubtedly owing to its mellifluous curation and the excellent installation by Leslie K. Brown and Bruce Myren. But above all, I think the enriching interconnections of this exhibit reflect an abiding interest in identity that is absorbing contemporary photographers. Small wonder, considering the chaos in which we live today. This multi-faceted, fervent desire to gain bearings is the penetrating clarion call from thirteen imaginative photographers to the world, on view through June 26, 2016.
For hours, directions and more information about this exhibit, go to: http://www.bu.edu/prc/exposure/juriedexhibition.htm
EXPOSURE 2016 is a part of Flash Forward Festival Boston. For more information about the artists and curators who contributed to this exhibit, go to their website: http://www.flashforwardfestival.com/exhibition/exposure-2016/
Feature Image: Installation video still from the series “Projections and Resemblances” by Leah Cooper (courtesy of the artist).