Nevada Museum of Art (+Environment)

Talk about psychic whiplash!  I just spent a few days in Reno, mostly at the Museum of Art + Environment, which was extremely cool.  The Museum is so thoroughly grounded in sense of place, in assorted notions of what constitutes art that is specific in its engagement with environment.  The Director of the Center for Art + Environment, Bill Fox, shared his wisdom about the exhibits, the library, the archives they are collecting.  It was a rich and riveting few days.

But in the evenings, after dinner, I went “home” to my hotel room on an upper floor of a local casino.  Casinos are the antithesis of specific.  They mess with your sense of space and time.  The light is all artificial, so you can’t tell what time of day or night it is.  And you move among spaces that kind of blur into one another, with few markers to help you orient.  Plus, it could be any casino anywhere.  Casinos, I think, are the sort of place Michel Foucault was talking about when he coined the term “heterotopia.”  Places that are not really places, in a sense.

246-147x300All my to-ing and fro-ing between museum and casino might have been the thing that made me so captivated by the work in the “small works gallery,” a set of tiny photos by Jean-Pierre Bonfort that he made with his cellphone    camera during trips between Grenoble and Paris.  According to the squib on the wall,    the  images are “not a record of the journey so much as of the artist’s state of mind.”

A train is probably also a heterotopia, a place that isn’t a place–as it moves through the  landscape.  But Bonfort’s images are intriguingly specific, even though they rely on a visual vocabulary over which he has limited control.  The cellphone camera doesn’t allow for much image manipulation.  And it doesn’t look like he did much afterwards in photoshop.

Though both heterotopias, casino and train would seem to invite diametric responses.  The one asking you to lose yourself within its confines, the other to find yourself by looking beyond.

Christine Collins’ “The Keepers”

KEEPERS_NEW-20-300x240I love bees.  I’m allergic to them, which makes the relationship more vexed than it might otherwise be, but it does not diminish my fondness for them.

I’m also really interested in the way that bees are depicted in contemporary culture.  They are lauded for the work they do as pollinators, presented as the hapless victims of some human foolishness that causes colony collapse disorder, and function as a trope for a whole suite of concerns about how humans interact with the natural world.

KEEPERS_NEW-5-300x236And, in Christine’s photographs in THE KEEPERS series, they become very nearly sacramentalized.  In a really good way.  What I am often struck by in these images is that they resonate with religious imagery.  It’s as if the beekeepers, in their effort to simultaneously connect with and control “nature,” are reproducing the relationships to the world that we see in many religious rituals.  I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise, since so many rituals are efforts to set aside our sense of alienation–either from one another or from the larger more-than-human world–and feel deeply connected.  Not connected, exactly, more like oceanic.

Looking at them, I cannot help but think of a high priest or priestess invoking something holy, of a Catholic priest swinging the thurible, of the labor of the keepers as a kind of offering.  Images from this project are on view right now at the Foster Gallery, at the Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, MA.  So, so worth a visit!

Chris McCaw

In NYC this week for work, and doing a little gallery visiting on the side.  I’ve just discovered Chris McCaw.  He’s been working in this particular style for a while, but I didn’t know about it.  Of course, I love it–he’s dealing with time, the nature of light, the particularities of what cameras and lenses can do, referencing the history of photography.  All at once.  And the pictures themselves are weirdly great.  What’s not to love?!

SUNBURNED-GSP142-300x235

Here’s the backstory:  McCaw is interested in recording time, as marked by the movement of the sun, and rendering it with a sense of directness and immediacy.  So, he uses gelatin coated paper AS THE NEGATIVE.  The intensity of the sun literally burns the paper, leaving solarization effects, wacky color shifts, singe marks.

SUNBURNED-GSP516-300x185

So so cool.

SUNBURNED-GSP269-186x300

His work has got me thinking about Marco Breuer, on the one hand, and Sharon Harper, on the other.  And that’s pretty great, because I’d never before had a sense of connection between those two.  Now, I’m thinking about assorted ways to play six degrees of Kevin Bacon photographically.  Let’s say:  Thomas Joshua Cooper to Mario Testino, ready set go!  (okay, that one might be absurd, but isn’t that part of the fun??)

Barbara Bosworth at PEM

My former teacher, current collaborator, and now super friend is having a really lovely show at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA.  The work is mostly black-and-white, taken with a large-format camera.  Some images are solo, while others are panoramas made by taking 2, 3, or (as in the case above) 4 images in a sweeping succession.

Among the things that I love about the work is that it blends the precision allowed by the very cumbersome (and slow!) 8×10 camera with a sense of deep intimacy and connectedness.  An image like the one above must have taken at least 1/2 hour, probably a good bit more, just to set up the camera and make the negatives, but it reads as a moment apprehended and shared.  Not that the arduousness is what matters.  I’m just saying that it’s striking that Barbara Bosworth is able to incorporate people really seamlessly into images that take a lot longer to make than your average cell phone selfie.

Included in the exhibit are artifacts from Barbara’s life–an egg collection and the pencilled effort she made as a child to identify them reveal that her passion for looking carefully at the natural world began when she was very young.  And it persists in her family, as is clear in the images that look back to her parents and forward to young nieces and nephews.  The Bosworth world seems to be, in Heidegger’s words, one of being-there.

The show is up for a while, as part of PEM’s “year of photography.”