Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 07, 2012 10:46 pm 
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Joined: Sat Mar 08, 2003 1:50 pm
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Location: California/NYC
Some photographs shown in New Mexico.


I am going to comment on the work of Untitled XII. This is not a painting without a name. Untitled XII is a "society of fine art photographers." "Their shared vision" is "to produce innovative work in limited hand-printed editions." That is certainly a desirable goal. Consider the alternative: unoriginal work in massive machine-made editions. They are not so humble as a "group" nor so earnest as a "collective," so pretentious as a "consortium," or so clueless as a "club." They are a "society." This bespeaks a certain elegance, and perhaps exclusivity. Membership is closed. Others need not apply. But perhaps I am wrong in this assumption, because while the name is "XII," there are only ten members. There may be room for two more.

All humor aside, the work by XII is beautiful and accomplished. The tendency is toward photography that is highly worked. These are not "push button prints" by street photographers using point-and-shoot cameras. The outlook leans toward the surreal, and the images are highly stylized. Their current portfolio is divided into two parts, THE LOST YEARS and WATERPROOFS.



Jon Lewis' images are perfect circles, an unusual format for photographs, in hard-edged and luminous black and white, with a kind of fish-eye distortion that yet maintains a sense of elegance and regularity. These images bring to mind the futuristic visions of an earlier time, the 1920's perhaps, the illustrations of W.A Dwiggins for an edition of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, for instance. Lewis is one of several of these photographers who makes use of vintage processes, in his case including daguerreotype, as well as digital.


Paul A. Lewis's LOST YEARS images are of odd plants, in a pot and in a gnarled hand. These suggest an animated film, definitely surreal, where small creatures become giants and immobile objects come to life. Lewis, another of those interested in antique photographic methods, uses a rich, layered technique. Lewis is not only a fine art photographer but also a sculptor and the owner of a bronze casting studio.


Sherry Selavy is a glitzy, humorous kind of Cindy Sherman photographer whose images involve herself posed in colorful, strange arrangements. In one, she wears an ornate Burmese or Thai crown. She is brightly made up and squats spray-legged with colorful junk food containers and a giant sunburst flower. In the second image she's painted in gaudy camouflage, grinning toothily, her body twisted into a yoga knot. Selavy seems to strive a little too hard for an outlandish or grotesque effect. She is the antithesis of Rappe's restrain and celebration of classical moderation and beauty. But her emphasis is not on layered photographic methods so much as on elegantly documenting her performance pieces.


Missy Wolf, who has worked as a fashion photographer, provides Selavy with direct competition because she too is a lady who shoots herself in elaborate disguises and tableaux. Here she gains a certain edge because her work possesses a pleasing patina and at the same time the masochism of such contortions is more boldly used.


In one image she seems to have been burned at a backyard barbecue, and in the other (the more beautiful, but not necessarily the more original, of the two images), she is a life sized Victorian doll that has come apart at the waist and lies scattered. A sewing machine lies beside her, asking to be used to sew her back together. I like this image even though anything by Joel-Peter Witkin trumps it. But Witkin tries too hard and everybody is probably sick of him. This photographer may have looked a little too long at the work of Judy Dater. And it's not the Seventies any more. But hey, that's okay: they're nice photographs.


Eleanor Rappe's work suggests another kind of world altogether, absenting herself from egocentric presence in her work and substituting the mediation of an ancient tradition. These images of Rappe's are celebrations of the rationalism and love of the human of the ancient world. Here, a delicate network of geometric diagrams is lightly laid over classical sculptures, perhaps suggesting a link between ancient Greek culture at its peak and the European renaissance. Rappe avoids sentimentalizing her celebrations of antiquity by the simplicity and elegance of her work.


Evan Hubbard's two introductory images are much simpler, and also more mysterious. They are haunting, fragmentary, fleeting images. They seem the most genuinely photographic so far, making skillful use of movement, shadow, and light, unusual, but not gimmicky in any way. What are they? I can't say: part of someone's back, and the folds of a white cloth that could be a Clansman's costume. But the cloth is as beautiful and delicate as a fine painting. This is gorgeous simply as a photograph. It is a visual and tactile delight. And it hovers and seems to move.


Richard E. Saunier lives more in the natural world with two images of animals in nature; but these are sophisticated and stylized images, with much layering. In this format the deer or gazelle works better than the small buffalo on the tiny hill. It has lovely rhythms. Saunier's photos might have more impact if there were more of them.


Henry Aragoncillo has two elaborately constructed images of a surreal Wild West. These are fun, but they are photographs in search of an explanation. The are telling a story. But what story? Whether this is just a magazine assignment or represents a genuine personal vision is hard to say on the basis of just these unreadable examples. Are they Pink Floyd album covers? More will be revealed. Arangoncillo was a a freelance and fine art photographer whose career was cut short in the late 1990's by a disabling accident.


André Ruesch, who is a professor of photography, works with animals, and a child, birds, and a cat. The first one is hard to read, but with its blacks and whites and rhythms, is visually pleasing. The second one is a combination of the quirky and the cute. Again, an explanation is needed, or a series to show what's going on. The title of the series, "A Murder of Crows," provides a slight hint. Ruesch's work is handsomely executed.


Untitled XII have also done a collective (sorry, societal) series of photographs that all involve water. Their title for this series is "Waterproofs."


This time Lewis, with his circular images, uses the society's water theme to reduce his content to a bare minimum. His images have the same pristine glow as his Twenties architectural futurism, but there's less to them this time. The two circles work as a pair, cryptically commenting on the environment, which doubtless is also a concern of Ruesch and Saulnier. But perhaps Lewis has gone too far toward the minimal and symbolic to communicate his ideas this time.


The next artist, Henry Aragoncillo, is telling a story in each image that has much complexity and whimsy. Space does not permit a full analysis but drowning seems a possibility which, with people and water, is an outcome not to be discounted. These images have been given a distressed look, a la Joel-Peter Witkin; but the effect, if less grotesque, is still bleak. . One can feel Aragoncillo's chronic pain.

Saulnier's underwater images have somewhat the same flow as his running deer. There is much technical expertise here but it is submerged in the natural image.


Again Sherry Selavy, of the yoga twists and the Cindy Sherman poses, outdoes herself when she takes her laborious shenanigans underwater. I confess to being left completely cold by them, but others might love the high heeled sequined lady cowboy riding a cock horse ready to lasso the giant seahorse at the bottom of a swimming pool and the dayglo bespectacled woman, still sunk in the pool, in the rocking chair with a whole lot of stuff around. But why all this stuff should be happening at the bottom of a swimming pool is a mystery to me, and to all of us. A challenge met? But this reminds me of the story about Samuel Johnson making a face at a violin concert. "But Dr. Johnson, Sir," his hostess said, "the piece he is playing is very difficult." "Difficult, Madam?" Johnson replied. "I wish it were impossible!" But she has done the impossible, because none of this is digitally manipulated but staged by her in person under water, and she has preserved her sense of humor.


Rappe's much more restrained work simply and directly embraces water imagery,laying unbroken and shimmering aqueous surfaces over all her two images, which are, this time, logically, female classical nudes. Woman = water is a universal archetype. These are handsome images. Their impact might increase in a very large format, where they would become the environment and the water would more fully envelop our field of vision.

As different as these photographers are, and as mixed as their results are at times, the quality is high throughout, and there is reason for them to call themselves a "society." That is because they have something in common, for all their differences of concern and personality and style. And that is because these are all photographers very much of a current ongoing kind (didn't they call themselves "contemporary"?), because they are as far as possible from the kind of photographers who work fast out in the field and, however much they use the darkroom (or Photoshop) retain the look of what comes out of a camera. As I said at the outset, the tendency is toward photography that is heavily worked. Or, in some cases, the setup of the photograph is very elaborate, and anything but candid.

The danger is that heavily worked will drift into overworked. It's the artists here who avoid that drift who make the best use of their evident talent.

Odus J. Lynd

I have not identified all works in the exhibition group due to a lack of identifications of the works and artists on the disk I've referred to for this review. Several other underwater images are quite beautiful, but I could not find titles or artist for them. I am not sure all my identifications here are correct.

Future Worlds Series by Paul E. Lewis

This work by Untitled XII was to be observed in an exhibition at the Bond House Museum, in Espanola, northwest of Santa Fe, New Mexico, in early 2012. The photographers met at the Santa Fe Community College's School of Art and Design, where several are teachers and the rest have studied together and shared ideas. All do work that is polished and distinctive, involving a multiplicity of techniques and outlooks but sharing a common respect for the value of producing finely crafted "archival" prints. This collection shows how refined and sophisticated photography in the age of digital manipulation and the cultivation of antique and archival methods has become. But to be honest, I can be more moved by the happy accidents of casual snap-shooters, or classic street photography, or any camera images that confront the visual world more directly. My latest discovery is the 88-year-old Saul Leiter, a painter whose quick shots taken in the Manhattan sidewalks over the past fifty years capture the magic of the medium. Images by Leiter like his "Walk with Soames, 1958," have the same cryptic but highly emotional and personal quality one finds in the paintings of Howard Hodgkin. "Paff!" went Cartier Bresson, capturing the moment; then he turned the rest over to the darkroom and the printers. This work by Untitled XII represents a different, more cramped and self-conscious world. It is rich, but sometimes airless. "Photography: Constructed Realities," reads the title of a new local art course. That's the trend these days. Photoshop has made everyone a Jerry Uelsmann. But unconstructed realities, caught on the run and held there, are hard to beat.

Photo by Saul Leiter. Walk with Soames, 1958.

The "society's" website. The Waterproofs images will be found here. And you can find all these by Untitled XII and more on Flickr.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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