Ivan's Blog

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Tag: Photography

“Taking Aim” An Exhibition at the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts

“Taking Aim” An Exhibition at the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts.

“Taking Aim” An Exhibition at the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts

It has been just a little over a year since I last went to the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts, aka The Hurston. The museum rarely offers any literature about the exhibitions, their web page has not been updated since 2012, and they could use better gallery lighting, but they do not charge any admission fee, it is all by donation. The museum is a small and humble establishment that only has two exhibitions yearly. Located in Eatonville, a small town just north of Orlando, the museum brings current dialogs from our culture better than the Orlando Museum of Art. The town is embedded with American history, such as the first incorporated African American settlement community in the United States and the writer, Zora Neal Hurston. Towns with this type of reputation tend to capitalize on it history, but this does not deter this little museum from educating and taking risks in showing art that is current versus what is visually beautiful.

The current show at the Hurston is an exhibition titled “Taking Aim,” which features three bodies of work by Bayete Ross Smith (http://www.bayeterosssmith.com/ ). We take aim with thoughts or words, using racial profiling or racial slurs, and/or stereotyping to determine the identity of a person. The show left me thinking about how we label and judge things. Let’s be frank here, we all do this. We cannot be called a bad person because of our thoughts; it is our actions that determine if we are good or bad. When I get angry with some random driver who made me miss the light because they were too busy texting, which will cause me to be late, I want to shout at them for being an idiot, but then I think about my initial reaction and think it is stupid to get angry. Also, we are all judgmental; it’s a form of defense. For example we judge potential love interests based on past bad experiences to avoid making the same mistakes and having our hearts broken. We all label things; it is how we understand ourselves better and where we stand in society. For example, someone is a wedding photographer because they only take s pictures of weddings. I am a photographer, but I do not shoot wedding pictures; therefore I not a wedding photographer. These are all minor examples, but you get the idea.

Bayete Ross Smith’s work brings to the surface the action of judging and labeling. One body of work, which shares the same name as the exhibition, “Taking Aim,” is made up of practice sheets of shooting targets that are used in gun ranges, but instead of only having the silhouette of a male human form he printed various black and white portraits on them. The majority of the target/portraits are non-Caucasian males and females, dressed in a variety of ways, including a picture of the artist in a suit and tie. All these portraits were taken to a gun range and used for actual target practice, so all of them had bullet holes except for one, that of a small black child. As children we viewed the world with innocence, what happens to us as we entered adulthood? We judge and believe all Blacks are uneducated with no family values, or all Hispanics are illegal immigrants with no family values, or all Muslims are terrorists and have no family values. It also made me think that we as a culture are molding this child’s future by imposing our values indirectly on each other and deem what is acceptable and not acceptable. These portraits work in a simple but powerful manner.

Another thought that came out of “ Taking Aim“ was gun violence in the USA, which leads me to his second body of work titled “Gatling (America),” a series of portraits of various races and gender, but in color. In each portrait the individual is holding their favorite gun. When you normally think of guns you think of police, military, hunters, or criminals, not a person who could be your neighbor or a teacher, or the use of recreational gun use versus violent gun use. They are very well crafted portraits, but upon reading the artist statement I came to find out that an important part in this body of work was omitted. Each portrait is supposed to be accompanied by a questionnaire that was filled out by the person in the portrait, giving us an insight as to why they have guns in their lives, their experiences and relations to guns, and what they do for a living, informing the viewer with a better understanding of gun culture in the USA. For reasons unknown, these questionnaires were not included in the exhibition.

The last body of work “Passing,” is where Bayete took a standard ID portrait of a young man and applied that photo to different passports from around the world to make you question his ethnicity, nationality, and race. Is he Brazilian, British, Cuban, Colombian, Dutch, Ethiopian, French, Israeli, South African, Sudanese, or a U.S. Citizen? Is he White, Black, Mixed, Hispanic, Caucasian, or Middle Eastern? It is hard to tell, but all of these passports have the ability to be true or false as to the identity of the person. Again the question of why we need to label things arises. Do we have the ability to live in a culture similar to what is portrayed in Star Trek, the universal qualities of equality, liberty, justice, peace, and cooperation? Or the world described in the song “Maybe There’s a World” by Yusuf Islam, where he states, “ I have dreamt of an open world, borderless and wide, where the people move from place to place, and nobody’s taking sides.”

Even though Bayete Ross Smith work is not shown in a pristine gallery in Orlando, or the correct way it was intend to be seen (missing the documents that accompany the portraits in “Gatling”), or my belief that “Passing” could be stronger if it was presented as actual passports, or even at least present each passport in their own individual frame instead of doubling up the passports in one frame. The bottom line is that his artwork still has the power to question things, which I believe is the foundation of good art; to motivate, think, change, inspire, or open our minds and shake things up in the boxed environments that constantly surround and shape our views.

This exhibition will be on view at the Hurston until July 28, 2015.


Open Letter to Jonathan Jones, Art Critic for the Guardian

Jonathan Jones of the Guardian recently wrote an article on how photography in art galleries are flat, soulless and stupid, pointing out that photography tries to mimic painting, but is no comparison to that art form, and further more states photography is better viewed in a book or on the screen of a computer. Here is the link incase you are interested in reading the article.

Ever since reading this article I have tried to rationalize or even understand Mr. Jones why he stated this. He has the experience and knowledge to back up his statement. He is an art critic for the Guardian since 1999 and a judge for the prestigious Turner Award, but his love for painting is blinding him from seeing the beauty and validity that photography has on gallery walls. I agree with Mr. Jones opinion on how much work a painter’s hand is evident in the artwork, and how photography since its creation has been accused of trying to emulate a painting. Mr. Jones gives the example of the current Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize winner whose photo heavily references the painter Caravaggio.

Since the invention of the camera it was stated “Painting is dead,” and photography has been seen as way of replacing or competing with the medium of painting. Each medium has it weakness and strengths, over the year’s artists have reinvented and used each medium to address modern world issues maintaining their strength in the art world. Yes photographers emulate paintings, but how many painters reference a photograph or emulate it in their paintings Mr. Jones?

You cannot just assign it a viewing mode, i.e. a book, or computer monitor. The digital generation view the majority of artworks on some type of screen, before that it was books, until you view the artwork in person you do not get the full spectrum and understanding of that particular piece of art. Viewing an Andreas Gursky, Jeff Wall, or Edward Burtynsky the size, beauty, and object confronts you. If you ever looked at an Irving Penn photograph you see the beauty, quality, and the artist’s hand Mr. Jones describes when viewing a painting. It is not just a piece of paper with an image printed on it, and even if it is, does that mean printmaking and etchings should also be labeled as flat, soulless, and stupid on a gallery wall? This piece of paper with in image is a sixteenth of an inch thick or less, but it carries so much meaning, reality, truth, lies, documentation, storytelling, memory, time, beauty, ugliness, horror and enjoyment.

Mr. Jones it is a waste of time pitting two art mediums against each other, you have a right to your opinion, but simplifying how to attain a photograph does not justify your opinion. If Damien Hirst directs his assistants to paint several of the colorful circle paintings and in the end just signs his name, while a photographer creates the image from beginning to end with no aid of assistants is the hard work noticeable on the final product? Do not selectively grab on topic about painting and photography and expect it to equal it themselves out, its like comparing apples to oranges and this is not fair to the readers whose forte is not art history and able understand your attempt of simplification of two beautiful art mediums who deserve to equally be viewed in a white cube just so you can attempt to cause some buzz in the art world.

Viewing the exhibition Fractured Narratives at the Cornell Museum

Sorry for the delay since my last post. I have become an adjunct teacher and find that it is taking time away from my art making or anything related to it.

I went to the Cornell Fine Art Museum several weekends ago and was very impressed by their latest exhibition. Out of all the museums in Central Florida they have maintained their degree of excellence, putting on exhibitions to educate the public about contemporary art, and it’s free.

They have curated a part of the Alfonse Collection of Art dealing with the aspect of narrative, which leaves the viewer enough room to construct their own conclusion while addressing modern issues plaguing our current society, including warfare, racism, and climate change. This show is not a “feel good” exhibition.   Don’t get me wrong, there is beautiful art on display, but it makes us aware of things we are ignoring that need to be dealt with eventually; it makes you leave with a conscience regarding issues that need to be addressed not only by citizens of the United States of America, but as citizen of this universe and our survival as a human race.

The title of the show is Fractured Narratives showing the works of Dawoud Bey, Omer Fast, Eric Gottesman, Jenny Holzer, Alfredo Jarr, Amar Kanwar, William Kentridge, An-My Le, Maya Lin, Goshka Macuga, Israel Moreno, Rivane Neusenschwander, Trevor Paglen, and Martha Rosler.

The thought that kept popping in my head is how as a country we have changed our mentality to overlook certain actions for the price of security either from terrorism or more recently from a deadly disease. The world has changed since 9/11 and this show reminds us how. I will be starting off with the strongest piece in the show, which is a video titled 5000 Feet is the Best, by the artist Omar Fast. I have never heard of this artist. The video is thirty minutes long, high quality by Hollywood standards in production and filmmaking. There is an interviewer asking the question “what is the difference between you and someone who sits in the plane?” The man he is asking this question turns out to be a veteran drone pilot. He gets agitated about answering this question; he suffers from headaches, and then changes the subject by telling a story. The story he is telling is then depicted in the video while the man narrates the scene, once the story is told we are back in the room again, the man excuses himself for a break, goes outside for a little bit, then comes back in and the scenario plays out almost identical like the first time but the story he tells the interviewer is different, this happens several times overall. The conversation and experiences about being a drone pilot, the stories being told, the metaphors, and in particular a story that replaces a typical scenario that can occur in a high-risk conflict area in the Middle East, where a Middle Eastern family is trying to go on a weekend family outing, but is replaced by an American family, in an American landscape, relating it to our lives, the suffering of innocent people caught up in all these conflicts.

Martha Rosler’s photomontages also deal with the same issues, where she juxtaposes advertisement imagery with imagery of war. The title of this series is House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home, New Series. The combining of images makes you compare, war and daily life, consumerism and ignorance. This simple act using images that are readably available in publications to denote what is wrong with act of war and the reasons behind it leaving the viewer wondering what is normal in this world.

Jenny Holzer’s piece is very simple, a painting titled water-board. It’s a nice surprise since she mostly works with LED lights. The painting simulates an official government transcript, but on a larger scale, 55 X 44 inches, that was released to the public that has been censored by the government blocking out sensitive material, because it deals with water boarding. At first glance from far away it emulates a minimalistic painting with its blocks of black on white background, but upon seeing the words, you start to try and fill in the parts that have been hidden from us; reasoning why the government used this torture technic. Is it to protect us from the truth and to what lengths the government goes to give us security or to protect their interests. What justifies torture?

The next three artworks that got my attention were photographs. I tend to favor the medium of photography when it comes to art. The ability for the photograph to be realistic, but at the same time anti-realistic has always fascinated me, maybe because in reality there are two sides to every story, eventually we decide what side to believe in.

Trevor Paglen’s presents a beautiful image of pastel hues with almost minimalist sunset or sunrise colors, depending on how you want to interpret it. But upon viewing the title, Untitled (Reaper Drone) and paying more attention to a small detail at the bottom right hand corner the reality of its reference shatters the beauty of it, making you wonder how something so beautiful can reference the ugliness of surveillance.

An-My Le’s work references war reenactments and Timothy O’Sullivan’s Civil War imagery. I have heard of military training that emulate the terrain to prepare a soldier for combat, which she captured in one of her images, taken during a desert training for recon, but what surprised me was her other photograph of a Vietnam War reenactment. I have heard of Civil War reenactments but not of the Vietnam War, a war that America wants to forget. From what I learned people who participate take this very seriously, down to every detail of the battle, to keep it genuine. Looking at both images it becomes hard to tell between the fantasy and the real.

The last set of photographs deal with the Civil Rights Movement, in particular the killing of the 6 children in Birmingham, Alabama. Just like An-My Le’s images reflect history, Daewoud Bey does the same. In the show there are two diptychs titled The Birmingham Project: Janice Kemp and Triniti Williams and The Birmingham Project: Fred Stewart and Tyler Collins. In the massacre 4 girls were bombed in a church and 2 boys were murdered that same day. In Bey’s images he selected children as stand-ins to represent the age the children were killed and he then selected adults who are the age the children would be now, had they lived. Using a church and a museum as a backdrop for their significance to the history of the Civil Right Movement, he took the portraits of these people in almost the same posture as if they were mimicking themselves as a young version against an old version of themselves. Viewing these images made me sympathize with the innocence lost, and think, had they lived, what their potential could have been to society. The reasoning of racism and hatred has no validity when compared to a loss of human’s life.

Art has changed over the centuries, from simple story telling cave drawings, to sculptures representing deities, to religious interpretations, to burst of vivid colors of an artist interpretation, to questioning what is art, to now. Art nowadays is not a thing of beauty that hangs on a wall. Art now makes us think, question, reflect, etc. By the time you leave this exhibition you question how does humanity keep on functioning, and still be able to make sense of it all.

Final post for October AIR, postcards and more…

Final post for October AIR, postcards and more….

Postcard #5 by Robert Clarke-Davis

Postcard #5 by Robert Clarke-Davis.

Postcard #4 by Robert Clarke-Davis

Postcard #4 by Robert Clarke-Davis.

Tinted Windows by AIR Ivan Riascos

Tinted Windows by AIR Ivan Riascos.

Postcard #3 by Robert Clarke-Davis

Postcard #3 by Robert Clarke-Davis.

2014 Graduate Show at the Southeast Museum of Photograhy

So this past month I saw two photography shows.  One was held at Gallery 500 at West Livingston in Orlando, Florida and other was held on the Main campus of Daytona State College at the Southeast Museum of Photography.  Both shows were made up of 2014 Bachelor of Science Photography graduates from the joint program between Daytona State College and The University of Central Florida. The differences between the shows were location, title, and gender.  The one exhibiting in Orlando was titled Bed of Roses, and the photographers exhibiting were all females.  The exhibition in Daytona was the entire 2014 class including some repeat images from the exhibition in Orlando, but some were framed differently.

The thing that caught my attention was how the show was laid out.  My main complaint is that I am tired of seeing poorly displayed art.  Not knowing the circumstances such as; did the show have a curator? Were the students responsible for hanging the work themselves? Who determine how much space to exhibit the artwork?  This statement is aimed mostly towards the exhibition at the Southeast Museum of Photography at Daytona State College.  Most of the images were crammed onto the gallery walls and not given enough space between each photographer, so some photographers were limited to 2 or 3 images while others had a little more up to 6 images.   Again I do not know  the behind the scene circumstances if some photographers had only two images to exhibit and hung what they had, but it is disappointing seeing an art show and wanting to see more images.  Do not get me wrong I have seen the artist’s concept come across crystal clear in one image, but when the artist states “This is from a series,” and I only see two images, it is  disheartening!  Maybe the school should give more consideration, and attention to the students on their exit from the program when they are showing their best and final work, and this also reflects on the school’s program.  They should have somebody who understands the visual language when displayed on the wall, which seems to lack from the several shows I have seen in the past, and assign each student a certain amount of wall space, and make room if possible in other galleries.

One thing I have been noticing is the current fad of photographers choosing to ignore intentionally, or unintentionally the formalist style in the history of photography.  I do not know why this is, but this is my hypothesis.  I believe that taking photos with smart phones is heavily influencing current photographers and this is becoming the norm, giving current photography a new standard in how we define beautiful.  If there is a movement in photography today similar to Picasso first paintings into Cubism, or Warhol’s introduction of screen prints, I find myself being the guy in the camp of formalism and opposing the new style.  I consider myself very conceptual and I will not care about the quality of the image as long as it fits the artist intentions and concepts, but I find myself having difficulty viewing images when the photographer is approaching one constant theme with the same wide angle.  I understand that documentaries use of the Single Lens Reflex cameras and love the look, but they will jump from portraitures, to informal portraitures, or capturing the moment from far away, to up close and personal, or capturing that specific moment before it slips away, but if the photographer is taking the same image from the same distance, the composition is the same in all images, and the photographer is not adding or taking away from the frame then they should treat is with respect.   The reason I bring this up is because in the exhibition the works of MaKay Hartley, Kristina Jarquin, and Nathan Wyatt had good basic concepts, but missed the delivery.   I believe if all three had moved away from the wide-angled lens of a Digital Single Lens Reflex camera and used a large format camera and treated their subject with respect the images would have been more powerful.  Even if they could not get their hands on a large format camera, at least they could had straighten lens perspective and vertical lines using Photoshop.

MaKay Hartley’s body of work titled Remembrance was one of the strongest concepts in landscape photography.  Using her hometown of Lake Wales, she captured various places where pivotal situations in her life occurred while growing up.  She does not offer insight to what happen exactly, but through the use of titles the viewer gets a glimpse into what might had happen at that specific location.

Four photographers working with concepts that have been used in the past by previous photographers, but with a twist is Kristina Jarquin, Alicia Lynn, Corryn Lytle, and Nathan Wyatt.  Kristina’s work titled Modern Families remind me of August Sander’s attempt at documenting German society at the beginning of the twentieth century.  Kristina is defining new portraiture on how a family looks in the United States in the twenty-first century.  The images depict not only the family, but also the exterior of their own homes are used as backdrops adding more rich information about the environment.

I’m not a fan of Dawoud Bey’s portraits of today’s youth, but Alicia Lynn’s work titled Young Reflections bridges the distance between viewer and subject, which Bey’s lacks in my opinion.  Alicia made a series of informal portraits of Daytona’s Boys and Girls Club that you make you feel like you personally met the children in the images for a brief second.

Nathan Wyatt’s No Vacancy is about vacant buildings found in the Central Florida region reminiscent of local photographer Rick Lang, but with the use color. Wyatt is recording Florida’s economic history through the architecture of various buildings that are vacant.  Both Wyatt and Kristina Jarquin are dealing with two different themes, but are documenting and showing our present landscape in Florida’s society.

Eternal by Corryn Lytle works on the same level as Alicia Lynn’s images.  You understand and feel the relation of the subjects, which is a documentation of the special bond and unconditional love shared between a little girl named Marlea and her Great Aunt Sarah.  We are reminded of the lack of innocence as adults when viewing these images.  The only negative thing I have to say about Lytle’s work is that I want to see more images and in a wider span of time if possible.

Becoming the Son by Robert Biferie was a very powerful work on a conceptual level, where he acknowledges his father’s influence in his life by combining the images of churches that his father took with his own images of natural landscapes.  To me this speaks on many different levels.  This attempt to combine two definitions in what they believe is spiritual, his father’s search for some kind of resolution in religion, and Robert’s natural landscapes could be seen as his own church in a spiritual sense.  This reminds me of sorts the story of Jesus’s and his conversation with his Father the night prior to being captured by Roman soldiers, where he went through a barrage of emotions and coming to an understanding.  The series is a very private conversation between Robert and his father and only he knows the outcome.

The one body of work that surprised me the most was that of Nicholas McNeill titled Persona.  The four images on displayed are a self-portrait of a young man, but the face is always cropped right below the nose.  He is dressed the same in blue dress shirt and jeans in all the images, but the setting, the object he holds in his hands, and his shoes change in each image.  You can see a very controlling and intentional hand of the photographer in all the images.  What surprised me is that I did not agree with his artist statement and the images shown.  He goes into too much into detail of what inspired him or in this case a physical handicap that formed his identity that I feel he loses sight of what his work reflects.  Yes as artists we sometimes lose sight of what our intentions with our results.  The images caught my attention because of the darkness, oddity, and controling factor reenacting a past scenario by photographer and not so much about “fitting in.”

I want to congratulate the graduating class of 2014, and I hope to see works from these photographers/artists in the future.