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Camera Obscura

Artlink's FW Photographers

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


Over the last three years, this article's coverage of Fort Wayne's contemporary art scene has included nearly every popular style and genre. However, it is interesting to see how much quality photography is and has been made by our city's artists. Surely, this phenomenon is partially due to the fact that we have two respected Schools for the Arts within the University of Saint Francis and Indiana-Purdue University Fort Wayne.

Yet some our Fort Wayne's most interesting photographers, like Emma Downs and Dominick Manco, are not your regularly hewn photographers. Thankfully, Artlink has been supporting our photographers with "FW Photographers Exhibition," which is a large survey of photographic artists, in many media and genre, which can give an uninformed viewer a great appreciation for the work being done regionally.

Michelle Diller, a product of the University of Saint Francis' photography program has developed a simplistically sophisticated artistic voice with her re-contextualized images of domesticity. Diller's piece "Clothepins" is a close-cropped image with a single clothespin focused into as a subject, with the rest of the line and landscape fading into an abstracted background. This square image, with its unsettling mid-range tones and minimalist accents, reminds the viewer of Lorna Simpson's conceptual photography which debuted in the late eighties and early nineties, which explored race, sex, ethnicity, and in general multiculturalism with a new simultaneously evocative and clinical description. Diller seems to be doing something similar with regards to femininity, craft, and the domestic. Diller has printed "Clothepins" to a square piece of white fabric which is then pinned into the matting. Diller also used the antiquated Van Dyke Brown process to print her image. Van Dyke Brown prints were named such for their similarity to the Flemish painter Can Dyck's use of deep browns. Also, the Van Dyke Brown process is one of the most economical printing methods that can also be done at home without much hassle. This combination of form and content in Diller's superbly constructed pieces sets her work apart.

Other great photographer's included in "FW Photographers" include Cara Lee Wade, Diller's former photography professor, whose piece "Through the Glass Nightly: Time For Change" is a continuation of her documentary work based on a particular set of the Savannah, Georgia night life. Joel Faurote, known for his thorough and supportive documentation of Fort Wayne's music scene, has included the image "David Bazan" from Basanís One Lucky Guitar performance in 2009. Tom Galliher's "Untitled", a large image of a woman confronting the viewer, was based off of a 665 Polaroid and then digitally printed. Nicole Croy's "Chamber of Secrets #1", a holga image of a telephone booth, was interesting in how it straddled the definitions of documentary and conceptual photography. All of these artists are working with a stronger documentary style of photography, carrying the unique moment and the culled atmosphere through photography's ability to freeze a moment accepted as reality for viewers to savor later.

Because of photography's ability to capture reality, it has also been responsible for some of the most shocking images in art history, while also being one of the youngest mediums. Artists who used photography and photographers who created art in the early nineties "culture wars" like Andres Serrano and Robert Maplethorpe cultivated the shock of seeing a "real" image versus a presumably fabricated description through some other mimetic process (painting, drawing, etc). Some of this can be seen in a less confrontational way in Josef Zimmerman's "We Slipped Together", Ethan Ross's "The Day We Met", Jeff Crane's "Ballerina", and Rob Borel's "Minotaur", which all expressed their more apocalyptic visions, taking both baroque and banal methods of exposing the viewer to an image that must be recomposed after the initial introduction. Dominick Manco rounds out the more stringent images with his "Domestic Goddess", an image of his Pollyanna-like character adorned with blackface, yellow rubber gloves, and cleaning materials. Manco's exploration of social psychology through this immaculate painterly photographic image of a fully formed character is one of the strongest pieces in "FW Photographers". However, because of the complexity of Manco's conceptual practice being expressed, it is difficult to read with only one image present.

"FW Photographers" also includes a large range of work which illustrates how flexible and variable photography can be. Work like Daniel Dienelt's Audiometric Phantoms", explores the realm of abstraction through photographic processes through direct manipulation of the film and exposure process. Rich Manalis's "Untitled" takes a different approach through an almost collage of a single image to make true replication of an image become abstracted by changing its context. Tim Brumbeloe's "Pentimento 20" utilizes the malleable aspect of digital photography by literally collaging his images together using Photoshop, creating images which are both equally painterly and photographic.

As always, it is usually the images that can't easily be grouped together that become the most interesting. Jan Herold's "Mississippi River- Buena Vista" at first glance, looks like a formally beautiful image of traditional American landscape. Upon further inspection the viewer realizes how crisp and present the actual image is. Herold is gracious enough to explain that she actually takes a digital image, prints it onto a transparency, then uses that transparency to print images traditionally in a darkroom. "Mississippi River-Buena Vista" is a testament to Herold's skill, turning a non-descript "pretty" image, and giving it the weight of Hiroshi Sugimoto's images through her unique process and skill in a darkroom. Emma Down's, in almost the completely opposite direction of Herold, presents "He Dumped you for Someone Sluttier", a self-portrait taken with a digital camera. Down's work is all about her character work. The acutely detailed posturing and back story to Downs' images make them go places that formal aspects cannot.

Finally, the image which had the most singular longevity was William Baulkey's "Midnight Waltz", an image which falls somewhere between fashion photography and pure artistry. The piece is a noir image of a ghostly woman wearing a gown and styled precisely, seemingly dancing with her mirror image or another version of herself. While this could have easily been done using Photoshop, Baulkey took the high road and simply used a long exposure of his model posing multiple times. The result is quite stunning.

Baulkey's photographic practice is certainly influenced by fashion photography, but "Midnight Waltz" seems more mature, like the work of Hedi Slimane or Cecil Beaton in that it goes so far beyond just beautifully presenting a model and her garb. The intriguing aspect of fashion photography elevated to this point is that it must simultaneously inhabit both fine art and commercial art. The key to Baulkey's success in this image is that he does not define it. In fact, "Midnight Waltz" even contains some visual cues of a film still. Baulkey's one clearly intention image, not being one thing, is a testament to the range of his understanding of photography's formal and conceptual and popular aspects.

"FW Photographers" at Artlink
January 21-February 23, 2011
437 Berry Street, FW, IN 46802

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