Photographers at Photolucida in Portland, Oregon represent all areas of photography-based work, expressing very different points of view. The diversity in the approach to art and image creation, using the photograph as an object with other media, is inspiring and challenging. Subject matter ranged from documentary work, performance of self and others, and imagery of found objects. Each unique. Each different. Each showing how broadly photography-based art has advanced as a tool of expression.
Noelle Mason’s portfolio, “X-Ray Vision vs. Invisibility”, dramatically makes evident the powerful invasive capabilities of technology today. The technology used is x-ray, thermal, digital imaging and satellite imagery that Mason acquired from the US Border Patrol, Minutemen and commercial security sites. She has converted these images into cyanotypes, hand-woven wool Gobelin tapestry rugs (she calls “Ground Control”) and cotton “x-stitcheries”, or “Coyotaje”, as she refers to them. Her social documentary style of expression deals with undocumented immigrants trying to enter the United States illegally.
Mason’s cyanotype images invite the viewer into an unreal twilight-type zone we don’t want to believe exists. She refers to these as a “Backscatter Blueprint”. The images are obtained from a backscatter x-ray machine, a new form of digital imaging. The technology is similar to the full-body scans used at airports for passenger screening. Each blue-toned image is a skeleton-like outline of a truck in which we clearly see chalk-toned ghost like bodies hidden away. The figures are unnatural looking, not of this world, even though each figure represents a living, breathing person. The figures are standing, bending, sitting and lying. They are in tightly packed groups or alone in different sections of a truck. Some of the trucks are long, some smaller, but all arranged to hide the human cargo.
Mason uses other media to communicate with the viewer. In “Ground Control”, Mason created hand woven wool Gobelin style tapestry rugs that reproduce satellite images of the US/Mexico border locations where illegal crossing occur. A Gobelin style tapestry is a reference to the famous 15th century French dye and cloth makers. The rug tapestry gives the viewer a different way to engage with photography-based art by walking over it, just like the satellites passing overhead watching our own movements, not just theirs.
The satellite images contrast the US-Mexico border. Depicted are a city of 100,000, on the US-Mexico border, Mexicali/Calexico, through which thousands of people cross back and forth between countries each day. The rug image contrasts the agricultural richness on the US side with the much more barren Mexican side. It engages the viewer to think about what they are looking at, and why different zones on the rug are one color or another, and to ask - why this area? What is special, important or happening in this location that Noelle Mason look the time and energy to seek out publicly available information and present it to us in this format?
Mason also created cotton x-stitcheries she calls “Coyotaje”. The word “Coyotaje” is a reference to the operators that smuggle people illegally across the US-Mexico border. An “x-stitch” is a type of stitching pattern. Mason says: “Coyotaje is a series of cotton x-stitcheries that depict x-rays and infrared images of undocumented immigrants crossing the US/Mexico border illegally. Using a computer program the digital files were translated into counted x-stitch maps with each stitch representing a single pixel of the original image. These are strong political statements, permanently presented, forcing us to see and reconcile what we and our government actions have become.
Brandy Trigueros’ “The DadaByte Theater” is a wonderful and imaginative performance art series about our selves, our bodies and entanglement with technology in today’s world. Her series is rooted in how we tether ourselves to phones, computers, television and radio in an almost constant barrage of information, entertainment and distraction. Trigueros commented: “When I began The Dadabyte Theater, I was subconsciously drawing upon artistic influences from the Dadaists and Bauhauslers of the 20th century who made work as a way to reflect on what they saw as a decaying of culture during their time. I too reflect on the decay brought upon technology in the 21st century as well as the hopefulness it can bring to this century and beyond.” Using her own body as the stage, she dresses herself in circles and cones, entangles herself in well formed wire on her head and neck, with technology from different periods like old tape cassettes, stereo view cameras, and many other materials. In her image “Virtual Reality”, she includes the stereo view device and reminds us: “In a computer simulated society technology becomes an appendage or extension of the body, in this case artificial retinas.” In essence, Trigueros reminds us how we use technology as an escape mechanism into a different world than our own.
Each her self-portraits are very Art Deco in appearance (found in art work from Architecture to sculpture from approximately 1910 to 1930). While the style of her presentation reminds of us of Art Deco, her political and social motivation is very Dada-esque. In particular, a photo of the costume worn by Hugo Ball, a performance artist himself, in his 1916 performance of his “Sound Poem, Karawane” reminds us of Trigueros’ work.
Her work extends beyond a performance recorded on paper, but also to sculptural installations where she combines her photography with the physical. Her work “Self-driving Car” is a humorous look at what our future may hold as technology takes yet another part of our physical world away and wields control over our decision-making. Trigueros captures for us visually what we all feel when she says: “Growing up, I experienced generational shifts in technology, passing out of the pre-digital to digital – we are crossing into the new frontier with driverless cars, trucks, drones, and 3-D technology. Autonomous machines of war, labor, pleasure, care, companionship and other technological systems of control, domination and comfort are being produced within this dizzying systemic capitalist merry-go-round. In the current state of rapid archaicness of built-in obsolescence, I use referential technologies that still function but are mostly obsolete socially.” Her work is a wonderful reminder that we have to sit up and take notice of the small incremental changes that we barely notice day-to-day, but over time change and control our lives.
Another photographer, Pamela Chipman, has created a performance art series, “Holding Secrets”, using silhouettes and body language with reference to our past, to address issues of feminism, age and identity. Chipman tells us: “These images explore the interplay between strength and sexuality in women. We see the intentional and unintentional messages expressed through gesture and body language. By paring each women with flora their language becomes a conversation. I am interested in the universal archetypes, how a dark silhouette can draw out universal sentiments and bonds, things that make us human. These images celebrate our bodies, our power, our sexuality, and our wisdom.”
The styles and staging are very reminiscent of Greek and Roman sculpture and art. While Greek and Roman art present a very idealized vision of beauty, looking closely at Chipman’s images, we see women of different ages and body styles. Her work, while beautiful, is relevant in that it reminds us that we may have distorted messages of beauty and grace. Society and marketers try to define for us how we should dress, look and posture ourselves. Her work reminds us that we can be comfortable being ourselves.
Chipman uses both black and white images and gold-tone images. The use of either give each image a different feel and message. The black and white image give a dramatic stage like sense of performance. Each person appears on a stage, backlit by a bright spot light. It focuses all of our attention on them and only them. There are no other distractions in the image. The gold-toned images are smaller, more intimate, with a certain warmth. These feel less like a stage performance, and more like a private conversation between the artist and viewer. In both, we look closely at the outline of the woman in the image, straining to discover details as to their identity, maturity, and details of hair style and body. The florals make their performance more dramatic and we engage to imagine what their pose might represent. Chipman has skillfully used this basic technique to engage our imagination and hold our attention.
Karen Navarro, in her series “El Pertenecer en Tiempos Modernos” (translated as “Belonging in Modern Times”) is taking a very contemporary, colorful and abstracted approach to commenting on technology as it affects us today. Navarro is from Argentina, now living and working in Houston, Texas. She describes her work as “highly stylized aesthetic on a diverse array of mediums that includes photography, collage, and sculpture.” Navarro herself represents the new voice of art - multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, engaging with others in a virtual world without regard to national boundaries. She lives what her work expresses.
The background of her constructed portraits use the hashtag “#” found in many of today’s apps, like Instagram. The hashtag has become the ubiquitous communication tool for people to find others of like interests. In this series of portraits, the prints are made on paper backgrounds printed with hash-tagged keywords. The bright red and print color scheme is a reference to the Instagram logo. Her models are volunteers that answered a request to pose solicited through social media. It is that virtual connection. In cases, our self esteem and identity may be defined by how successful we garner followers, which are published for all to see and judge us. Navarro’s work expresses self-referential questions that apply “a much larger scale to ideas of construction of identity, societal expectations and the understanding of the being; prompting a discourse about the subconscious will to comply with the contemporary societies' canons when these are in fact misleading.” Her work reflects this magnetic pull of acceptance and connection with others through the whirlpool of social media that drags us in and fragments our sense of self.
Navarro very cleverly modified the photographic image to create a sculptural object that reflect how social media impacts our interaction with others. The way we communicate and relate has changed. For her generation, in particular, communication is less about personal interaction and verbal direct communication. Communication among her peers is more about the iPhone, the computer, texting and messaging. What Navarro has presented us with, in these image, is our new identity. It is not a face to face interaction, but the tangles of social media that have woven us together in an electronic mesh. Her images reflect that distortion in interaction in the way the portraits are abstracted. She suggests that in order to not be an outcast in this new society, we have to accept how we seek human companionship, or be isolated.
A third photographic genre seen at PhotoLucida 2019 is “The Good Dishes” still life work of JP Terlizzi. With Terlizzi’s work he incorporates plates, cups and food seamlessly blended into a fabricated background, virtually created. Here Terlizzi uses family dishes to refocus the viewer on the connection we share to food and family events. His work evolved out of family deaths and the passed down heirlooms that trigger, for him, a memory of precious family relationships. However, the viewer has no concept of those emotions. We don’t know if these are “good dishes” or not. We observe only the image as it is. Terlizzi does recognize the broader a message: “Eating is a physical need, but meals are a social ritual.”
The still Life that is presented in “The Good Dishes” focuses our attention on patterns. It is reminiscent of the artificial flowers work, “To Be orTo Pretend” done by Cuban artist and photographer Adrián Fernández. Terlizzi’s work is, however, different. Terlizzi uses photoshop to create a background that allows the dishes to dissolves into that surrounding pattern. It has the viewer do a double take requiring a closer look at the image to see where the plate ends and the background begins. While we may not recognize memory and loss in these images, we can still appreciate that his work “celebrates the memory of family and togetherness.”
Texas artist Becky Wilkes creates still life arrangements out of found objects. As a consequence of a severe drought in Texas in 2014, Wilkes seized a photographic opportunity. As she describes it, her portfolio “From Janie to Janie” is “a survey of natural and man-made debris, found, photographed and collected from an approximate one mile stretch of waterfront over a period of one year.”
Wilkes’ work is documentary. Her collection of found objects is like a reporter looking for facts and evidence for an evolving story. She commented: “Society’s wealth and health might be judged not by the magnificence and abundance of its creations but by its regard for the environment and the discards of its citizens. “From Janie to Janie” explores the implications of our throwaway society through the examination of debris meticulously collected from the shoreline of Eagle Mountain Lake, near Fort Worth, TX. For one year during the Texas drought of 2014 to 2015, every item found along one mile of newly exposed lakefront was photographed in-situ and again in studio, and then arranged into large scale digital collages. … Collectively, they speak to our incessant needs and wants and yet our careless abandonment post gratification. …the nature of trash and focused instead as an archaeologist might study the trailings of a civilization following in the footsteps of Augustus Rivers who first insisted that all artifacts, not the just beautiful or unique be collected and catalogued.” Her work though is deeper than just a visual record of found objects. Images like “Fallen Glory” tug at our sense of patriotism and national pride.
The image “A Bad Wrap” is a new direction in Wilkes’ work that carries a warning. Previously, her work in “From Janie to Janie” were laid out found objects, of a similar type, that presented a viewer evidence of discovery in an orderly, structured, rigid pattern. In “A Bad Wrap”, there is a visual sophistication. The viewer sees an interesting abstract artistic image, but, on closer inspection, find that the intriguing visual pattern is really an accumulation of garbage. Beauty is combined with disgust and the realization of what we are doing to our environment. Other artists have traversed this issue. We think of the photographic art of Alejandro Durán in his series “Washed Up: Transforming a Trashed Landscape”. Wilkes’ work presents a different country, a different place and a different means of discovery. That makes her work a reminder that the damage we inflict on our environment is not limited to one country, one image or to one artist’s voice of expression.
What was seen at PhotoLucida 2019 is photography-based imagery presented in different ways and multiple genres. The imagery of Noelle Mason straddles two segments of documentary photography, both reportage and social. The imagery is both sculptural and printed, as is the work of Karen Navarro. There is a contrast in the genres of expression. Brandy Trigueros is seen in images in which she, herself, performs with costumes she created challenging technology’s domination of how we live. Pamela Chipman, in contrast, has others perform, choreographed in silhouetted poses, holding selected objects to express visual concepts of justice and equality. Navarro overlaps her interest in social media and its influence over how we live our lives with Trigueros’ view of technology. The still life, long a standard of painting, remains a vibrant genre of today’s photography. JP Terlizzi sources the materials of his still life images from inheritance, while Becky Wilkes is using discarded found objects. Both create a unique expression using similar technical approaches of studio-based work. Wilkes overlaps with Noelle Mason in the documentary nature of their work, albeit very different topics; yet, both are making a comment about the society in which we live. It would not be difficult to continue and make a matrix of many other contrasts and comparisons for these six artists.
PhotoLucida is a valuable platform from which to contrast and compare artistic motivation, and see a variety of photography-based techniques. Mason, Wilkes, Navarro, Trigueros, Terlizzi, and Chipman all help us see through very different lenses. What we see is a rich cross-section of expression. Each has a message with impact and visual expression that should be studied. If we listen closely, several new voices loudly and clearly speak. Though these artists we literally learn to see differently; and, discover the beauty and eloquence of photography.