How does art document, as well as enliven? When did it leave the realm of the decorative, the display of beauty as an adjunct to spirit-raising and spirit-assessment, to become so much more: a sister to philosophy and educated, sometimes scientific discourse? How did photography slyly move from a means of capturing the truth of moments to dominating our culture, at least in its gallery-visited form?
The Center for Photography at Woodstock’s annual “Photography Now” exhibits, the latest of which opened last weekend with a splash, explore such deep questions, and always display engaging and provocative works by up-and-coming photo artists around the world. Curated this time by Kira Pollack, director of photography at Time Magazine and former deputy photo editor for The New York Times Magazine, as well as the associate photo editor at The New Yorker, this year’s summary of what’s up-and-coming in the photo world focuses on eight artists who explore the ideas of what they’re doing as photographers, as well as the subject matters that have drawn their attentions.
Half look outward into the world to do so, drawing attention to new subcultures or sociological phenomena to examine where we’re at as a civilization these days; half look inwards, using their own lives, and sometimes families, to do the same thing – just like the rest of art, and worlds apart from the old days when images captured events, news and things that we already knew about. Think culture as a means of exploration, a modern-day compass of sorts.
Noah Addis’ Future Cities looks at urban squatter communities. Alinka Echeverria charts the first year of the new Republic of South Sudan. Gary Grenell’s Greene Lake is about a Seattle neighborhood and the way in which its various characters interact and co-exist, while Samantha VanDeman’s series Forgotten Hotels focuses on vacant spaces just before being demolished, evoking their memories just before they become ephemeral.
On the more personal level, Beth Chucker treats her life like a movie, while Ayala Gazit summons a brother she never knew personally, through family snapshots, letters and her own images. Ilona Szwarc travels the nation shooting girls with their American Girl dolls, creating a mix of irony and sweetness, while Robin Schwartz and her daughter Amelia explore the odd juxtaposition of animal and human worlds and how they interact.
In person, the show feels more intimate than it presents itself on paper, with most works of a smaller size than they’ve been in recent years, and with less text to manipulate. The result makes for closer inspection, deeper interaction with each series and individual works – and in the end, an oddly refreshing means of incorporating what’s brought together here as a map of sorts for renavigating the world outside these gallery walls.
Complementing this “Photography Now” exhibit is a beautifully complex and stylized collection of personal works by Mount Tremper photographer Jeff Jacobson, “The Last Roll,” that explores – in non-direct form – the artist’s experiences with illness and the loss of his favorite photo film, Kodachrome. For more on this show, see Almanac Weekly’s recent review by Lynn Woods at https://bit.ly/159a9yW.
“Photography Now” & “The Last Roll,” through June 16, Center for Photography at Woodstock, 59 Tinker Street, Woodstock; (845) 679-9957, www.cpw.org.