Category Archives: Uncategorized

“Fitting in ‘Slant-Wise'”: An Interview with Photographer Russell Cambron

During a torrential downpour two Saturdays ago, I spoke with Atlanta photographer Russell Cambron about his debut solo exhibition, Boy, Owl and Raven, in Whitespec at Whitespace.

—Whitespace intern Nathan Blansett

Nathan Blansett: Your new show in Whitespec seems to show an interest in the conjunction between childhood and nature. What about your work specifically is portraying these ideas differently?

Russell Cambron: Some of my influences are Sally Mann and Wynn Bullock, who definitely show childhood in nature. In my own take on the matters—the work is semi-autobiographical. It’s about my coming of age but it’s also about my coming out as a gay man, a queer man. In the artist statement, I talk about the child being “different,” and so that can be taken any number of ways. You know, Sally Mann, Wynn Bullock, they’re heterosexual families, white families. This is kind of showing a different perspective on that.

NB: Absolutely. The Sally Mann influence is so striking. I think a lot of people are really influenced by her—the intimacy of her photographs, which I think comes across in your work with this child that sometimes isn’t clothed, that is out in the wilderness. It’s interesting to me that you talk about the work’s relation to sexual difference. I think a lot of times when we’re thinking about queer art it’s cosmopolitan, urbane…I wanted to know if you feel there’s a connection between queerness and nature, or if your work is creating a connection between them, and why?

RC: I definitely hope it’s creating a connection—because it’s my own story. I grew up as a queer child in the South, in the rural north Georgia mountains about an hour from Atlanta. Definitely a lot of queer art is cosmopolitan—some fabulous work—from Catherine Opie, Robert Mapplethorpe, Tom Bianchi, people like that—and I love their work, but there was always the sense in which I didn’t quite connect with it, though I connect with work like Sally Mann, Wynn Bullock, or people like Keith Carter, for example, whose work is in nature, Sally Mann and Keith Carter specifically in the South. I connect more with their work. So this project was in part an attempt for me to come up with my own story and bridging those gaps that I saw there.

NB: I was wondering if or how mysticism or magical realism function in the work? There’s a photograph where the boy’s touching the mirror, and there’s a blurring between his hand and the glass.

RC: My undergraduate work was in religious studies, and I did graduate work in that as well, and I also completed an M.A. in psychology. So that’s really coming more so from that theoretical background than a purely artistic background. Of course those approaches influenced my approach to art.

NB: And I like that, that art can be based not just in personal experience or something that’s emotional, but it can also conceptualize the intellectual. In what particular tradition do you see your work operating within? It’s photography, so there’s the photographic tradition, and it’s queer art, and there’s the tradition of queerness and visual art…but formally and conceptually, how do you see this work operating in those traditions?

RC: I feel like my influences are all over the map. I would hope to see it in the tradition of queer art, but maybe in the tradition of queering queer art in a way, because it’s not something we traditionally see. I hope there are a lot of people out there with similar stories. Part of the benefit of focusing on childhood is that it doesn’t have to be just about sexual identity. It could be any difference; it could be racial identity, gender. It could simply be being an artist. Growing up in the South, even being an artist, was a big thing as well. So I hope it would end up in that tradition.

NB: I’m curious about certain formal choices you made when pursuing the project and also putting the show together, that arrangement. What were some of those formal questions?

RC: One of the first decisions I made was to shoot in a 4×5 aspect ratio. I guess you can’t say 4×5 format, because it’s digital photography, but it’s a 4×5 aspect ratio. I started off with a kind of beta version of this, shooting with a 4×5 camera and also an 8×10 camera. At that point I was referencing things that were more specifically film. But when I moved to this project I was no longer trying to be specifically film. But I liked that format. It maintained that photographic feel while allowing for some of the flexibility of digital photography, which was especially important working with the kid, with all the energy he had. There would have been shots I would have missed had I been working with film. So I had the best of both worlds in that case. Coming across Whitespec as the location for the installation was perfect… because of its existence as the cellar or basement in a house. I think the second image in the series is the boy going down into the basement. And that comes from this theorist Gaston Bachelard, who wrote a book called The Poetics of Space. One of the things he talks about in that book is the descent into the basement—the house, the psychology of the house, and even the mythology and the poetics of the house—and going down into the basement is the symbol of going down inside oneself, the psyche, one’s history. Having that image and that poetic figure mirrored in the actual space itself—it’s just wonderful.

NB: Where does this work fall within your artistic life?

RC: Helping me find my own voice. I was struggling to find my own voice, artistically and then also as a gay male. I had this feeling of wanting to tell my story, and that story being about my coming out, but also more broad—about being an artist, even being liberal or leftist or queer. Just being simply liberal in the small town South was a big deal. Even that was a coming out process for me. A lot of gay art or queer art was cosmopolitan, it can be in-your-face—and I think that’s good, and I think we need that—but it didn’t match my own personal style. I started to realize some of the queerness inherent in my own inspirations, from Sally Mann to Wynn Bullock to Keith Carter. I read a book one time called Queer Phenomenology, by a theorist named Sarah Ahmed, and she talks about being queer and being in the world as not just about sexual identity, but about fitting in “slant-wise”—she goes into the roots of the word queer, and she talks about her gender identity, her racial identity, her ethnic identity. That stuck with me. And I was listening to an interview with Keith Carter, who’s a heterosexual male artist, but he talked about how when he takes a picture he slants the horizon just slightly. So I connected with the idea of “Oh, he’s fitting into the world ‘slant-wise.’” This was his own kind of queerness, if you will. So I was able to move from this idea of, If I’m a queer artist or a gay male artist, and I want to do queer art, that I have to do something that specifically is about sexual identity.

Russell Cambron’s Boy, Owl and Raven is in Whitespec at Whitespace until February 11.

Traces by Stephanie Dowda / Jan 6 – Feb 11

“And With The Pain The Fog Clears,” 10 x 10 inches, gelatin silver contact print

The world of Stephanie Dowda’s new show at Whitespace, Traces, is one irrevocable. Traces is divided into two acts: 33 Marks and Evoco, a conceptual decision perfectly suited to the halved space of the gallery. Traces itself has an inherent twoness, or, perhaps more accurately, an inherent simultaneity. Its photographs are both formally conservative and yet strikingly manipulated; it is both corporeal and necromantic; it is both present and nearly vanished.

Dowda’s project was composed in both Vermont and Virginia but singularly in the aftermath of a long event: the illness and death of Dowda’s mother. But nowhere in Traces do we see an explicit nod to disease, death, or even burial. It is only alluded to in Dowda’s artist statement. Instead we see a world irrevocably marked by loss. I use the verb “marked” consciously. The first room of the gallery is devoted to 33 Marks, the section where Dowda privileges the photographic negative as its own object. During her process, Dowda would fold or deface the negatives before using them in the shoot. The result are silver gelatin prints of pastoral scenes marked by blinding, lit folds—the dark, square object contained tightly in a white frame. At its most dramatic, the object seems mutilated; at its most neutral, it is simply altered.

“Listening,” 24 x 30 inches, archival print

In Evoco, Dowda has unprecedentedly reintroduced the eighteenth-century Claude glass. Named for the French landscape painter Claude Lorrain, these small, convex mirrors were painted dark so as to diminish and abstract light, and thus were rich instruments for painters. The Claude glass has the unique quality of permanent distortion. Dowda’s Claude mirrors hang against the surface of her large prints, which in Evoco are indecipherable forms captured. Many of them are not traditionally framed, but are held by glass hooks—the prints gently levitating before the wall, occasionally pressing against their restraints with a cycle of air or a body passing. How unexpectedly Dowda gives us access to her changed vision. She enters the invisible as if it was always meant to be seen.

Whitespace intern Nathan Blansett

Stephanie Dowda’s Traces will be at Whitespace until February 11.

“The way that I remember things”: An Interview with Photographer Matthew Terrell

"You're a Mess," Matthew Terrell (2016), 12 x 31, archival ink on duratrans polyester film

“You’re a Mess,” Matthew Terrell (2016), 12 x 31, archival ink on duratrans polyester film

The Atlanta- and San Francisco-based photographer and writer Matthew Terrell currently has his sensual second show, “The Exquisite Corpse of Film Photography,” featured in Whitespec. I sat down with Terrell on a windy Saturday in mid-November to speak about double exposure, memory, and Surrealism—a conversation frequently interrupted by our fascination with the autumn light and shadow moving across the gallery floor.

—Whitespace intern Nathan Blansett

Nathan Blansett: Your current installation, which is in Whitespec, is a series of photographic works. How did you arrive at the formal process specific to this work? Could you name that process and talk about what it involves?

Matthew Terrell: Well, I’ve never really had a nice digital camera, like the Canon and the Nikon, the big ones that everybody uses these days. I’ve always had a Pentax K1000, which I’ve had since high school. So I’ve been shooting film for a very long time and I’ve been keeping it up.

Probably about 2012, something went wrong with the winding mechanism of my camera, and it wasn’t winding the film back all the way, so it was causing some of the images to be double exposed on each other. And I really liked the way that looked—it was such a surprise, and I thought the images were just so dynamic and so interesting that I decided to recreate it myself. And at the time I also really wanted to take a lot of pictures but couldn’t really afford to use up a lot of film, and so if you double expose film, it’s a way to take twice as many pictures [laughs] and only pay for one roll of film, which is a really silly thing to think about, but it lets me take more pictures. So it really just developed as a fun practice, a way for me to develop my skills.

I really think about just what is the most beautiful thing that I can take a picture of. How can I frame it, crop it, light it, in order to bring it to its…whatever it is. Whether it’s a fire hydrant or a Corvette or a Schnauzer—how can I take the most perfect picture of it, knowing that it’s going to get double exposed over, so I don’t really know what it’s going to look like […] and that’s freeing. It allows for some play and some fun and I’ve kept it up ever since.

I think what’s really fun about it—what you see in this show—is that they end up basically being long strips of continuously double exposed images. So I get to scan those long strips and print them like that, which is really interesting. […] You don’t see a lot of that.

NB: How do you think that complements the thematic aspects of work?

MT: I think that it’s really interesting to see it the way it’s printed, because I’ve got it with the frame breaks, I’ve got it with the sprocket holes and it’s got numbers on it, so it almost looks like a movie reel. I call them little cinematic stories. It shows the process because you’re really seeing my progression, usually on foot, through an area as I’m exploring a subject—whether it’s like the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco or if I’m just spending an afternoon with my friend Brigitte Bidet. You get to see all those sorts of things that I see through my lens as I progress through it because it really doesn’t matter the order in which I see it, because you see it in the order on the strips of film. But then you see two different moments exposed over each other. I would almost compare it to, like, you’re going on vacation, and you have these memories of, “I did these series of things in one afternoon and I did these other series of things in one afternoon,” but everything kind of starts to blend together in your memory.

NB: Yeah, memory is not that linear.

MT: Yeah, it’s linear and not linear at the same time. It’s reflective of the way that I kind of remember things. Both series and things start to blur together. So that’s a reflection of what’s going on inside my mind as well. With these images here […] sometimes I’ll add color lenses or prism lenses to my camera, but I didn’t in this show. These are all pretty straightforward. The composites that you see, they are taken directly from the strips of film. I’m not going into Photoshop and laying them over. Pretty much it’s just scanning them and doing a little color correction, and then sending them to the printer.

NB: I’m curious as to who your direct influences are—not just for this work, but as an artist, who you’re turning to, who you think is informing your work and your process?

MT: Definitely Arthur Tress. He’s actually a friend of mine, and I was actually with him when I was shooting some of these photos. He is what I would call a “surrealist documentary street photographer.” He had actually encouraged me to print the work like this and have a show like this, with the long strips of film, with the sprocket holes and everything. So he’s definitely my first influence. When you look at Arthur Tress’ work, there’s definitely a surreal undertone to it. He’s got a very surreal photographic eye.

And Keith Haring—he’s just a really awesome artist. I don’t know thematically or technically what kind of an influence he has on me, but whenever I see a Keith Haring piece of art, I’ll photograph it, and there’s actually two separate pieces in [“The Exquisite Corpse of Film Photography”] that have Keith Haring objects in them. One’s got the Keith Haring altarpiece from Grace Cathedral, and another is Dancing Figures, which was in front of the de Young in San Francisco.

Duane Michals, for sure. He came actually for Atlanta Celebrates Photography, and I regret not getting tickets. But he’s definitely a photographer that I look at because he actually has series of images that tell a story, like four images in a set that tell a story. And I think about that sometimes when I’m choosing images—how does the progression of what I show tell a story somehow?

NB: How would you see your work, not just this project but your work as a whole, engaging with a particular tradition in visual art, not just photography, perhaps a queer tradition or an aesthetic one?

MT: You know I think I’m definitely a Surrealist. Surrealism is not taught right now, but it comes and goes in waves every once and awhile. I think we’re actually kind of due for a new wave of Surrealism. I feel like with photography right now, it’s what I call “hyperrealistic documentary photography”—it’s very political, very theoretical, very theme-driven. But what I’m interested in with Surrealist photography, it’s really about the process, it’s really about the aesthetics of it; making, for me, something that’s just beautiful to look at, something that’s interesting to look at. When you look at a Surrealist work, it’s really interesting because you can look at it time and time again and see something new every single time. That’s something that I want in my own work. I will walk by the photos and notice little details that I have never noticed before. I find that a very interesting quality for artwork. I find it something that makes me want to enjoy it and produce work like that more.

Definitely, I look back more towards older photographers. Both Duane Michals and Arthur Tress are queer photographers from the ‘60s and ‘70s who did black and white and traditional photography. So I think there’s definitely some queer and classic influences in there.

I’m very interested in the artisanal archival analogue processes, simply because they’re just different—and this is a silly thing to say, but even though you know it’s really expensive for me to do it, when I pay to have [the work] developed, I get prints back. So I have prints of everything I’ve done. And I know a lot of photographers who have fancy digital cameras and they don’t have a single print. I’ve got scrapbooks, thirty scrapbooks on my shelves of photos, and boxes and boxes of prints. It’s really important for me to actually have the item, for the item to exist not just digitally, not just on my computer, but in some sort of real world context.

NB: Absolutely—it’s an object, not just a file.

MT: Yeah. I’ve always been someone who very much values giving people prints. Usually at the end of every year, I do this huge project where I will go through all my photos from that year and pull out the ones that I want to give to people. I have, like, all these giant piles, “Camille” and “Ted” and “Jason.” I go through hundreds of photos and sort them out and I’ll sign them all on the back, and I really try and label them all on the back as well. So I’ll say when it was taken, what it is, where it is. That’s usually my Christmas gift for the year. That’s another reason that I do film-based photography, because I get to do that.

I’m always really surprised by the different things people pick up on, the different things people are drawn to. Different people like the words “Hot Cookie,” different people like some sections that are more formalistic, they’ve got ferns and fountains on them, they have very strong lines. Some people really like that because it’s more graphical. Some people like the more soft elements, like the candles. I think that part of the fun of the process is that I sort of get to allow graphic elements and soft elements, things of design and things of color and shape, all these things that—you know, if I was just what I would call a “straight photographer,” just regular photography, you might not get to play with all those different elements in one. But in this case, in these photos, you can have all of them, all the different elements. So there’s something for everybody. That’s something I like—something for everybody and you can constantly look at it and find something new. That’s really fun.

Matthew Terrell’s “The Exquisite Corpse of Film Photography” is at Whitespec through Saturday, November 26.

Run Rampant by Laura Bell | whitespace gallery, October 21 – November 26

13_rutstag
How appropriate that autumn is the season in which Laura Bell’s new exhibition, Run Rampant, appears at Whitespace. The evening of its opening, white-dark rabbit feet in a ceramic bowl were given like amulets to the partygoers, and as dusk passed into night, the wind outside chilled and dried. The weather’s tone was both strange and elegant—perfectly matching the work being studied.

Run Rampant, an artistic realignment for Bell, is an impressive, multimedia tableau vivant. Its diction is foremost Victorian, though invaded. One enters the gallery and, on the right wall, sees two intensely intricate pen and ink drawings of a stag and a boar. On the left, seven framed portraits of mammalian decay—the paper cut with an x-acto knife, then pinned behind glass. These initial works are hung against walls of dark mauve like insects pinned to felt.

The back wall is centered by the taxidermied bust of a deer. A sleek dark mask slipped over its face—with slits for eyes—is erotic in its evocation of BDSM, and is strikingly dotted with off-white pearls. A mobile of rustic ornaments hang from the bust’s antlers.

In the second room of the gallery, Bell has installed lavender wallpaper. In a design reminiscent of steampunk, the single faces of opossums, pigeons, rats, wolves, and rabbits emerge through illusionistic frames crenellated with beetles, buds of flowers and tufts of grass, and pulsing cicadas and butterflies.

The exhibition has a marked interest in taxonomy and classification. Beneath the deer bust, a marble shelf protrudes from the wall, and on its surface one sees an egg with a round lacuna in its shell, which reveals a decorative figuration of an owl inside—this whole scene protected beneath a glass bell jar flanked with two animal skulls. These details that ornament the exhibition have the astute role of converting the gallery space into its own realm, a separate one, just as the animal world is, layered with its own secrets and rituals. Bell’s work, too, has secrets. A second viewing is almost imperative to capture pieces in their fullness of detail.

These are just some of the exhibition’s highlights, or at least the installations that are most prominent. While the project’s assemblage may behold the distance between our natures and others, never does Bell’s work feel emotionally detached from us. Its energy is palpable and amorous, like a dark European fairy tale. But there is something about the intenseness of the project’s cataloguing and observations (note the exquisiteness of the stag’s hair, quill-like) that also communicates fear. But I believe I am registering the ramifications of Bell’s study. To view her prickly work is to confront the possibility of a realm completely ungoverned by us, by our truths, even our hands.

Hieronymus Bosch in the 21st Century

The_Garden_of_Earthly_Delights

The Garden of Earthly Delights in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, c. 1495–1505, attributed to Bosch.

Hieronymus Bosch was an Early Netherlandish painter whose work is well known for its religious imagery, fantastical illustrations and attention to detail. Little is known about his life and his paintings are difficult to interpret, resulting in a deep fascination of art historians surrounding his work. On the 500th anniversary of his death, whitespace has taken the enigma surrounding Bosch’s life and opened it up for interpretation.

As the show comes to a close, we would like to reflect on the experimentation, spontaneity, and prank-like qualities of this latest exhibition in order to pay true homage to one of the most gifted, yet mysterious, painters of the fifteenth century. The participating artists did not fail. With little curatorial guidance and free reign of medium and imagery, twenty-four artists presented a body of work as deeply multi-faceted, humorous, and, in the words of the show’s curator, Jerry Cullum, “weirdly impossible to interpret as Hieronymus Bosch.” An appropriate presentation to honor the fascination surrounding the artist to say the least.

As we reflect on this exhibition we can internalize the intersections between humor and seriousness, sexuality and religion, macabre and aesthetically pleasing. Bosch represents a series of paradoxes that somehow bled together in an all together stunning presentation of images, colors and details. With the talent of our participating artists on display this past month, Bosch in the 21st century has come to be a carnival of confounding ideas. Ideas that will stay with us as we continue to be puzzled as well as humored by Bosch and look forward to art as an experience of both.

Fall and Folds

Vesna Pavlovic’s exhibition “Fall and Folds,” will delight contemporary art connoisseurs and art history students alike. Pavlovic’s work examines trends in art extending to the renaissance, through a contemporary lens. Her compelling appropriation of art history slides shows the works of many well-known and impressive artists reframed within the context of pedagogy.

tintoretto
PG TINTORETTO It Removal of the Body of Saint Mark, 1562-66, 30 x 30 inches, endura metallic color print with metal stand, edition of 3

Perhaps the most striking objects of the exhibition are the curtains, which take on various tasks, reflecting the perpetually turning slide monitor, providing backdrop to works of art, and altering the light coming into the gallery; mirroring that of a dimmed art history classroom. Pavlovic’s slides also bring forth the vernacular of art historians with large black emblazoned letters detailing college campuses from whence the slides came, as well as details of their originals.

greekGREEK: ARCH: ATHENS GEN: ACR: PARTHENON: EPEDIMENT GODDESSES, 30 x 30 inches, endura metallic color print, edition of 3

This duality of presenting famous turn-of-the-century works of art through a didactic lens creates an oscillation between now and then, contemporary and antiquated, revolutionary and appropriated. Pavlovic’s work provides a new context for fundamental artistic studies, placing them as artifacts rendered contemporary. Bordered by diaphanous curtains, even the texture of the material projected upon becomes an augmentation of the antiquated. What is stands out most is that Pavlovic’s slides, enlarged and hung, are incorporated into the slide projector reel, flashing across a draped slightly transparent curtain of plastic. When one enters the gallery, they see the slides, enlarged and with their full and original texts, against the dimmed light created by the curtains and hear the click of the projector reel as it turns. Pavlovic’s art is double-edged in that regard, perpetuating notions of art history teachings in darkened lecture halls, as well as calling forth the use of detail, shadow and light in classical and early modern painting.

slide
Slide Cabinet, 30 x 38 inches, archival pigment print, edition of three

Pavlovic also photographs in detail images of the various colored dots used to signify certain information on a given slide, as well as the slides themselves. A choice that shortens the distance between images of slides as art and image of slides and images of slides. These details focus on that of the art history world and how items such as projector slides are preserved. On view until July 30th, stop by this week to see how whitespace has been transformed into a place of pedagogy: in which classical images are elevated to high contemporary art.

Eyes Open Slowly

This past weekend, Constance Thalken’s artist talk proved to be engaging, thoughtful and thorough as she explained her latest body of work, “Eyes Open Slowly.” The show consists of photographs of taxidermies mounted on archival print and framed; many of them appear to be almost three dimensional in their incredible detail. Thalken explained that she spent two years visiting the taxidermy shop where the images were captured. The shop provides taxidermy pieces for a nearby Longhorn restaurant and is often busy, running on a very disciplined schedule in order to complete the many tasks at hand. Thalken came to start photographing the animals at the location after she had taken a class to visit on a field trip. She said that after this initial excursion she knew she needed to go back. Something about the shop’s environment sparked her interest and creative eye. Thalken came to admire and appreciate the care the shop owners paid to the animals that came into the shop. As a result she formed a very close bond with the shop owners and the relationship that blossomed became key in her creation of the works.

When one listens to Thalken elaborate on a piece, it is easily discerned that respect is of the utmost importance for her as an artist. Her relationship with the shop owners serves to indicate the level of carefulness Thalken exemplifies when entering and visiting another’s space in order to photograph it. She is quite knowledgeable when it comes to taxidermy as well, describing for the audience some of the practices that go into the preservation of the animals.

But beyond the scientific details of the works, Thalken explains that the premise of “Eyes Open Slowly” stems in part from her intrinsic interest in animals in terms of the drives they share with humans, as well as her admiration for nature and its creatures. While she is interested in examining the preservation of the animals’ lives, her exploration of death, as a common destiny between all living things, is also key. Her works reference sacrifice, love and closeness while ultimately and simultaneously citing death. That is what is most interesting about Thalken’s show, there is an intimacy between viewer and photograph, one that forces an examination of beauty and fabrication, respect and admiration and yet, there is also an inherent reference to death: one that is almost inescapable when viewing her works.

Despite the morbidity of this reference to death, there is a kind of reverence to her work, not only in terms of the taxidermy practice, with its delicate treatment and preservation of the animals, but also in terms of Thalken’s photographic practices. Her photographs highlight the gentle manner in which the animals are treated and act as relics of the animals’ sacrifice found in death. The animals in her pieces are posed in noble positions and become subjects of admiration and wonder, in spite of the deaths that had to occur in order for them to exist in the taxidermy shop.

Ultimately, the pieces invite viewers to confront their own ideals about taxidermy and what it means to preserve the nature and life around us. The animals are reconstructed in ways that adhere to human needs. They are made to look soft or regal, and yet the works are embedded with death; an aspect that forces the viewer to also come into contact with ideals about mortality and what it means to be alive. This oscillation between life and death, respect and sacrifice and finally the process of preservation, is what allows Thalken’s pieces to achieve their power. The viewer is placed in a position to appreciate, the animals and their sacrifices and also deeply contemplate, on a spiritual and transformative level, what it means to observe death, loss, life and conservation.

Written by: Hilleary Gramling