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The Griffin Museum’s 19th Annual Juried Exhibition opened last night to a generous crowd in Winchester, MA. The New York Times Magazine’s Director of Photography, Kathy Ryan, juried the show, creating a mélange of largely unaltered photographs from the abstract to the photojournalistic, providing something for everyone. Ryan commented that the photographers she selected all have in common “a faith in photography’s ability to tell stories” and that each one is “embracing its documentary powers”. However, the lack of a theme, combined with an “All The News That’s Fit” approach, also creates an overstuffed and unsettled feel. Perhaps to counter this sensation, photographs are grouped by content or type, with variable success. Clustering Meg Griffith’s gently hued kitchen compositions with Mary Beth Meehan’s nostalgic portrait, “Nana’s Kitchen” and Emily Franklin’s witty, “The Palmers” is both pleasing and effective.
One grouping of B&W work including Sarah Nesbitt’s dissected book, Francis Crisafio’s affecting children from his series “Holdup in the Hood”, Fabiola Menchelli Tejeda’s stunning geometrics and Michelle Rogers Pritzl’s emotionally suggestive kallitype, “The Response, Delayed”, is similarly copacetic.
In contrast, I think the grouping of photographs of unoccupied motels has an altogether different effect. Brian Kaplan’s “Sandcastle Resort” is a droll cultural commentary, while Stefanie Klavens’ work is a visual study of repetition and variation in the built environment. That their photographs of motels with outdoor balcony railings are separated by Samantha VanDeman’s bleak, abandoned hotel interiors, implies a narrative that does not exist. To me, it detracts from the individual pieces to place them all together.
Perhaps this was Ryan’s New York Times Magazine bias showing, but most of the photographs were large color prints, leaving black & white work rather underrepresented. On the other hand, if Ryan’s Magazine bent is the reason for the plentiful work featuring human figures and photo-documentary images, I couldn’t be more pleased. One of my favorite series includes three 30”x30” color digital prints by Nancy Grace Horton, who received an Honorable Mention for her work. Using an effective combination of color, composition and humor, she takes a gentle feminist stab at housework. Her woman hopping over a stovetop, knocking aside spoon and sugar bowl in “Hot” is inspired, as is her photograph, angled from the ground, of a woman laid out on an ironing board in “Blast Off”.
I found the highest award-winning photographs more curious. Griffin Award-winner Julia Cybularz’s “Breaking The Girl” series included four 34”x25” color pigment prints chronicling a treatment for Scoliosis, or curvature of the spine. Her photographs varied from the highly clinical image of a body-casted girl in traction to a beautifully sensual study of her bowed back, highlighting the spine. It could very well have accompanied an editorial in the Times Magazine.
Even more quizzical to me was the Legacy Award-winning work of Sarah-Marie Land. Firstly, as the top award winner, I think her work should have been placed in a featured spot, rather than intermingled on a side board. Her three comparatively small 16”x20” color inkjet prints feature boys – “Augustus”, “Elliot” and “Theodore & Xavier” – looking somewhat uncomfortable and diminished in naturally-lit, spare rooms. Each of them seemed somehow cornered or trapped in a world that they never made. On the one hand, these portraits were obviously posed, and the boys’ facial expressions – serious, sad, angry – all seemed a bit disingenuous to me. On the other hand, Land’s carefully constructed compositions and muted, diffuse lighting, combined with her enigmatic subjects, succeeded in prompting me to consider them at length and attempt to create some narrative. But, in the end, the work left me with ambivalent feelings.
The 19th Juried Exhibition is uneven and may well leave the viewer with similarly mixed emotions. However, the variety itself insures that this exhibit will appeal to a wide range of tastes. I discovered some wonderful, evocative photographs here and I highly recommend a visit. The show runs through September 1st, 2013.