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Sunday Best

[Vimeo 10680426]

Yesterday as I was walking in my north side Chicago neighborhood, where families were getting together for Easter celebrations.  The Mexican girls across the street, dressed in pastel gowns, were out in the front yard searching for hidden eggs while the boys of the Nigerian Minister next door were well groomed in suit and tie headed off to a day of church, all were in their Sunday Best to celebrate this important day in the Christian religion.

From the series "Sunday Best" by Andreas Fischer

This glimpse into their lives reminds me of an exhibition currently at the Hyde Park Art Center.  Artist Andreas Fischer, inspired by a collection of photographs from the Montana Historical Society of men and women from generations past, dressed up in their best for these portraits, tries to create context.  Not knowing anything other than what is captured in the image gave Fischer the license to come up with modern interpretations of the traditional portrait.  You know instantly upon viewing that these are from a photograph.  You also know from the color used and the image created that he made his own story.

The faces are warped, some say Zombie-like.  Fischer says this is intentional, wanting to exaggerate for the contemporary viewer that history and artifacts are left up to the interpretation of the viewer.  That most of the images captured now, seen through the eyes of a future observer will have their context.  Dear future viewer, treat us kindly.

The exhibition ‘Sunday Best’ is on display on the first floor of the Hyde Park Art Center (5020 S. Cornell Ave) through April 18, 2010.

Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage Moves to The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Long before Photoshop and Scrap-booking; long before Dadaists and Surrealists incorporated collage into their art, the women on England’s upper class created ornate works, mixing the new medium of photography with painting and drawing.

In the exhibition “Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage”, currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Elizabeth Siegel curates an exploration into a time and the inner circle of this privileged class.   These albums the aristocrats were creating tell fantastical stories, taking us into their world of literature or society.

“Butterfly” by Marie-Blanche-Hennelle Fournier

The technology of photography had been around for 20 years by the time these women began to create the works, but the advent of the “carte de visite” allowing for numerous images on one negative, increasing the amount of images available and they began to share the images with others.  The artists began to place those photographs in playful settings surrounded by hand painted worlds.

Lacking the heft of the surrealists’ messages, the works are a mixture of Terry Gilliams’ animation for Monty Python and the scrapbooking craze.   Heads on playing cards, as bubbles floating in the air and on the bodies of ducks, the images show a whimsy not often equated with Victorian Society.

The exhibition, “Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage” continues through May 9th at the  Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Life Exposed

Karen Savage’s photograms appear as x-rays capturing the experience of her Catholic upbringing.  Baby Dresses, Wedding Dresses, Penance Scarves are exposed for their delicate place in our history.  Each of these pieces tell a story, creating a collection of stories of women we can all identify with, Savage explains to me as we sit in her Oak Park home.

And the City Gallery at the History Water Tower (806 N. Michigan Ave) in Chicago is an appropriate setting for these works to be on display.  Photograms are created by laying something sheer, like an article of clothing on top of photo-sensitive paper then exposing it to light.  What comes out of this process is a ghostly white image floating on a black backdrop.  There is no lens to manipulate, just the remains of a handkerchief, a lace collar or a tablecloth to tell the tale.

The subject matter in Savage’s pieces adds weight to the medium.  The pieces she selects to examine are of the past; items now discarded for her to find in flea markets and thrift shops, like dress gloves and delicate collars and lace table clothes. Full size dresses show the delicacy of the material.  The embroidery of a tablecloth creates an ornately beautiful pattern.

The black and white works are haunting, but it is the lace gloves stopped me in my tracks.  These gloves are an object from the past, captured on a color photo paper; a process no longer available. The red, yellow, purple are made even bolder next to the black and whites.  This series appears to look like each set were just tossed on to a side table or dressing table and making me wonder who worn them and for what occasion.

Savages images tell a story of the past and of the present; a world of celebration and penance – a delicate world unobstructed by any lens.

(This work can be seen at the City Gallery at the Historic Water Tower through May 10, 2010)

Modernist Meditations

When you walk into the photo exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center, you are quickly drawing by the lushness of the images.  The vibrant colors and depth of focus gives an illusion of being in the space.  This is due to photographer John Allan Faier compiling several photographs into one image, giving you a richness of perspective.   But the true joy comes from the actual design of the spaces themselves.

John Allan Faier

In the 1960s, the Archdiocese of Chicago built several mausoleums in a modernist style. The mausoleums are meant to be a place for family to come and commune with the dearly departed.  But with today’s sensibilities, they seem radical; harkening back to the more liberal time when the doctrine of Vatican II was embraced.

The vibrant colors of the carpet and vibrant patterns on the furniture make the rooms look like a hip hotel lounge rather than a cold crypt.  The images have no figures other than lone statues standing strong as if to provide support for mourners to lean on in their time of need.

The exhibition Queen of Heaven, named after one of the cemeteries he visited, allows to even the most atheistic among us to find beauty in religious settings; and a sense of peace in these simultaneously quiet and loud images.

(The exhibition can be seen on the first floor of the Chicago Cultural Center through March 28, 2010)

Breath In, Breath Out

[Vimeo 8764887]

Worker at the HP Factory in Leixlip, Ireland

Photographer Mark Curran has been documenting the profound change in Ireland since the beginning of the “Celtic Tiger” economic boom of the early 1990s.  Over that time, he has captured the construction boom, which has doubled the housing stock in the past decade.

Prior to the boom, most of the youth of Ireland would consider a move out of Ireland to find work.  Curran was no exception, migrating to Canada with his father and sister at age 19.  As I immigrant he held on to romantic notions of his homeland; memories that were contradicted by the reality of the boom.  High-tech industries moved in to take advantage of the cheap workforce so many chose to stay.

In his recent work, “The Breathing Factory”, Curran captures the workers and environment at a Hewlett-Packard plant in Leixlip, Ireland and its business practice to expand and shrink the workforce to react to demand.  The photographs are a mix of portraits and factory landscapes he took over the course of 20 months with each image having made it past corporate management.   Curran dismissed my questions of control by saying they were concerned about the theft of intellectual property.   He wanted to focus the conversation on the impact these multinational corporations on the communities they reside.

Along side those images, interviews with workers and management are on display, shedding like in the new reality of instability.  A point made more clear when you realize the productions lines captured are constantly being modified, in affect making the works history by the time the project was completed.  Make you want to take a moment and catch my breath, doesn’t it?

Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage

December 4, 2009 3 comments

Long before Photoshop and Scrap-booking; long before Dadaists and Surrealists incorporated collage into their art, the women on England’s upper class created ornate works, mixing the new medium of photography with painting and drawing.

In the exhibition “Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage”, currently on display at the Art Institute of Chicago Metropolitan Museum of Art, Elizabeth Siegel curates an exploration into a time and the inner circle of this privileged class.   These albums the aristocrats were creating tell fantastical stories, taking us into their world of literature or society.

"Butterfly" by Marie-Blanche-Hennelle Fournier

The technology of photography had been around for 20 years by the time these women began to create the works, but the advent of the “carte de visite” allowing for numerous images on one negative, increasing the amount of images available and they began to share the images with others.  The artists began to place those photographs in playful settings surrounded by hand painted worlds.

Lacking the heft of the surrealists’ messages, the works are a mixture of Terry Gilliams’ animation for Monty Python and the scrapbooking craze.   Heads on playing cards, as bubbles floating in the air and on the bodies of ducks, the images show a whimsy not often equated with Victorian Society.

The exhibition, “Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage” continues through January 3rd at the Art Institute of Chicago before heading to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The exhibition, “Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage” continues through May 9th at the  Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.