New York Photo Festival 2009

New York Photo Festival 2009
14-17 May 2009
by Karen Garrett de Luna

Given the overwhelming plethora of exhibits and talks at the New York Photo Festival this year, I was lucky to be able attend a few talks on Friday and Sunday and wander the galleries in between times.

I don't want to be labeled a gay artist.
© Matthias Herrmann

My first destination was the Aperture presentation, “The Edge of Vision”, at St. Ann’s Warehouse. The previous talk was running behind schedule so I ended up catching the end of “Queer Art Now” during Brian Clamp’s presentation. One of the slides he showed, by a German artist by the name of Matthias Herrmann conveys precisely how I feel about being a (insert minority label here) artist.

Suns From Flickr
Penelope Umbrico, Suns From Flickr, 2006-2007

Lyle Rexer’s panel discussion with Jack Sal, Penelope Umbrico and Silvio Wolf was entirely informative and fascinating. Posing questions about the relationship of abstraction to documentation, he approached the discussion abstract photography from many angles. I look forward to seeing the related exhibition currently at the Aperture Gallery in Chelsea. I particularly enjoyed the Penelope Umbrico’s ‘Suns From Flickr’ which was shown at the New York Photo Festival in 2008.

The post-modern question of whether it was necessary to take any photographs oneself to be a photographic artist came up in this forum but also was addressed a few days later in the ‘New Documentations’ talk. Silvio Wolf’s minimalist photographs are strictly documentarian, but in their binary austerity, hardly give a hint about the context in which the photograph was made. I was especially taken by a colorful picture reminiscent of a Mark Rothko painting created from film leaders which are usually discarded in the photographic process.

© Silvio Wolf, Skylight 07 (Skylights series, 2003) and Horizon 16 - Chance 03 (Horizons series, 2002)
© Hank Willis Thomas

In St. Ann’s Warehouse, I also visited the “I don’t really know what kind of girl I am” exhibition curated by Jody Quon from New York Magazine, and the media lounge where I picked up copies of a slew of top notch photo rags, including the latest edition of Nueva Luz. The artists presented in the show all had different takes on the theme, from the beautiful, ethereal, underwater girls of Rene & Radka to Unbranded, black beauties by Hank Willis Thomas featured in Nueva Luz volume 13#2.

At first glance, a gingerbread house by Mondongo (an Argentinian art collective) looks like a typical children’s playhouse, but under close examination, the viewer realizes that what seems innocent at first glance is really composed of adult body parts, breasts and penises and the like. There are two light boxes inside the house each with a mosaic of a young girl; these compositions reflect facets of the realities of adolescence and adulthood they will face in the not too distant future.

© Ernst Haas

William A. Ewing’s “All over the place!” presented the unexpected gem of vintage color photographs by Magnum photographer Ernst Haas. I was surprised that these old photographs were included in a festival of contemporary photography, but in the curator’s own words, “So much fine work slips through our fingers; so much of the past remains unexplored; so much of what is banal today absorbs our attention.”

© Luis Gonzalez Palma

The makeshift gallery at 81 Front Street was home to FotoVisura’s Latin American Pavilion. “Tu/Mi Placer” featured diptychs with images by Luis González Palma with words by Graciela de Oliveira. The first line of the text was always ‘NO SERA’ followed by a statement reflecting the logic of an imbalanced relationship. Some photographs were set as domestic still lifes, but each had a twist rendering the scene somehow absurd. The most menacing of these photographs was one that featured the leg of a kitchen table piercing the padded seat of a chair; this incongruity in the scene made it feel like the table had violated the chair and that the two were trying to act as if nothing had happened.

The work by Ecuadorian artist Geovany Verdesoto reminded me immediately of Chuy Benitez’s panoramas featured in Nueva Luz volume 13 #1. Geovany reveals the changes afoot in Ecuadorean culture via the surplus of detail captured by his wide angle lens and sweeping views.

Geovany Verdesoto, The Last Supper

On Sunday I attended two discussions, “New Documentations” and “Photography After Frank”. The New Documentarians were led in the discussion by Robert Blake, Chair Emeritus of the General Studies Programs at the ICP. Fifty minutes was insufficient time for the number of photographers on the panel to be able to discuss in depth the many interesting topics that were brought up. Each of the photographers only had the opportunity to speak once or twice and the question and answer session at the end was rushed.

One of the salient points of the discussion had to do with the ability of photography to make the ordinary fantastic, or in other words. Each of the artists on the panel had a different way of revealing the power of photography to reveal the extraordinary in every day life, from  Elinor Carucci’s personal portraiture to Lauren Greenfield’s unflinching film, photography and multi-media work in Thin to to Paul Shambroom’s miliary monuments to Alessandra Sanguinetti’s series The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and the Enigmatic Meaning of Their Dreams to Gerd Ludwig’s photos of Russia to Eugene Richard’s color work in The Blue Room.

Eugene Richards made the observation that artists have an insatiable curiosity about the world around them and this drive to discover is what makes us perpetual outsiders, able to discover the currents in the mainstream and to notice the drama in the ordinary. There was a slideshow of the work of all of the artist on the panel Sunday night I was very sorry to have missed.

© Manuela Böhme

The satellite shows on view at the Tobacco Warehouse were among my favorites of the entire festival. There were several strong sets of polaroid pictures from Atelier Reflexe and Cobertura Photo.

© Sirio Magnabosco's The Wait; © Myrto Papadopoulos, Out on a Limb

Both of the photographers presented by the Cedefop/Thessaloniki Photomuseum had gorgeous prints. The theme for the 2009 competition had been Work. Sirio Magnabosco won the competition with square pictures of workers, “The Wait”, and Myrto Papadopoulos with pictures of construction workers, “Out on limb”.

© Kimiko Yoshida, Minotaur by Picasso (2007-2009)

Paintings by Kimiko Yoshida were a stunning series of photographic self-portraits modeled on paintings by old masters. Presented by Eyemazing, a Moving Gallery for Contemporary Photography based in Amsterdam, Kimiko’s work was technically rigorous and whimsical at the same time. I wished for a companion guide with reproductions of the original paintings for reference as I stood enthralled before the canvases.

At the end of the afternoon on Sunday, I went back to St. Ann’s Warehouse for another Aperture presentation, Photography After Frank. Philip Gefter, author of the book by the same name, and Andy Grundberg held a rambling conversation about Robert Frank’s influence on contemporary photography. Frank’s book “The Americans” is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and a re-issue accompanied by an exhaustive exhibition by the National Gallery in Washington, DC is now on tour. One of the interesting points Mr. Gefter made was that Abstract Expressionism was the dominant artistic trend at the time Robert Frank was taking pictures. Being influenced by artists in other disciplines, Robert Frank, too, wanted to document his authentic experience in the moment. In doing so managed to liberate the picture frame from the compositional tidiness that preceeded him. “The Americans” has been on my Amazon wish list for a very long time and now that there is a new edition, I’ll be able to afford a copy!
Robert Frank 'The Americans'
© Robert Frank, The Americans

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