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This is Not An Instagram
"Two negatives create a positive"
By Dan Swartz
Fort Wayne Reader
Photography has long been the populist art. Since the creation of the disposable camera and the snapshot, everyone and anyone has thought of themselves a relevant image producer, and through the wonders of technology, the advent of the smartphone has taken this further. The smartphone makes all of those self-made photographers hyper-confident in the relevance of each and every photograph they take of themselves in a mirror, the shadows of their Starbucks cups, or the beautiful sunrise. With the recent construction of Instagram, the full merger of photography with social media, those nouveau shutterbugs have been documented at more than 80 million registered users.
As the trends formed and exposed a clear movement toward digital images, many times created by the masses, the world of professional photography expanded a great deal in reaction to it. Now many hobbyists with connections have the opportunity to produce sustainable ventures, and amateurs gain national and international exposure. Certainly not by accident, the role of the fine photographer has included a degree of resistance to the reliance on that digitization and democratization. "This is Not an Instagram" is an exhibition embodying this role of the fine photographer, composed only of images produced through the manipulation of analog processes, many of which are experimental in nature. Without exception, the artists — Bambi Guthrie; Jason Swisher; Lilliana Hoag; and Daniel Dienel — are some of the most exciting local photographers, working in non-traditional methods, all capable of bending light and producing whatever images necessary through analog means.
The brainchild of artists Jason Swisher and Bambi Guthrie, "This is Not an Instagram" was originally inspired by the title of one of fellow artist Jason Swisher's images on Facebook (which was produced with a Holga camera), and both photographers’ criticisms and humor found in Instagram's feigning of analog photography. Both knew that this would be a perfect conceptual thread for an exhibition looking at the history and diversity of film based images, and Guthrie approached Conspiracy, a great friend to the arts and general contemporary culture in Fort Wayne, and local film photographers Daniel Dienelt and Lilliana Hoag. Not necessarily a direct reaction to the Instagram exhibitions produced in late Spring/early Summer 2012 in NYC, Guthrie reminds the viewer that there are areas within photography that will forever hold film holy. That fetishistic love for the physical process of photography has been present since collodion plates, and was not produced in duality to todays methods. Taking this in account, "This is Not an Instagram" as an exhibition seems almost like a devotional or repentant act more than a statement. The only guideline for this penitence is that "it must be shot in film", leaving the exhibition incredibly varied.
Bambi Guthrie's work has always been impressive, but something about the work in this exhibition highlights her skill further and is a testimony to her versatility. "This is Not an Instagram" includes her work ranging from live music documentary shots, images of urban decay, self portraits, and her appreciation for the figure. Included, choice pieces of Guthrie's landscape and portrait work are both recognizable, and reminiscent of Francis Bacon-like broken figures and blurred environments. These works are also pointedly more abstracted and less composed than work for which Guthrie is known, in some images even showing a possible influence by fellow artist Daniel Dienelt, known for his extreme abstraction within photography. Guthrie's image of Flamingo Nosebleed, a local punk band, is nearly non-objective in its swirls of light and blurring fields of color. While Dienelt's work is many times made through the direct manipulation of the developing process and the emulsion itself. This creates large fields of color and hesitant, combined fields of color, the viewer can still many times attempts to work out some semblance of representation in these images, only to find zips, cascades, and arbitrary markings produced by destructive chances imposed on the film itself.
Carrying this pairing further, Lilliana Hoag and Jason Swisher's work is, while not identical by any means, similarly constructed out of collaged images, fully recognizable but apparently awkward and out of place. Hoag and Swishers' surreal work contrasts ever so slightly and amiably with Guthrie and Dienelt's more abstract expressionist imagery. For Lilliana Hoag, these collaged images are a smaller segment of her more recognizable work, joined images, but follow her peculiar aesthetic perfectly, exorcising the most referentially odd facets of her images and presenting them to the viewer. Hoag describes her work as "intimate encounters, not only with the subjects illustrated in them, but also within (her)self." Somehow she does this masterfully, through images of friends with images of dogs overlapping, and blurry snapshots of sewing tables and accoutrements.
Jason Swisher's images follow in a similar "collaged" vein, but with a much stronger and more form cubist style. Sometimes taking the form of pieced together wide angle landscapes, Swisher's work also includes the angled and layered construction of images like "Unidentified", at first a seemingly straightforward image (albeit strange) of a storeroom of wig mannequins. Swisher overlaps the images highlighting the shelves creating a beautiful structure to the image, as well as doubling the amount of mannequin wig forms. Then, the viewers eye is completely disturbed by what seems to be a bloodied, bruised, severed head sitting alongside the wig forms. While this was not the first time this writing has witnessed this piece, it produced a very genuine and similar quality of uneasiness as well as a sort of reluctant humor and ending with a hanging ambiguity. Swisher's work tends to achieve that ambiguity both in concept and composition, creating interstitial cubistic spaces, with little "direction" for the viewer as to what, if any, motivation the artist has for the viewer ultimately.
And so "This is Not an Instagram" proves the power of the analog photographer in the digital world, by humbly bringing forth the value of the medium without casting judgement.
For more information on "This is Not an Instagram Show", contact:
1934 S. Calhoun