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Camera Obscura

FWMoA National Photography Exhibition

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


With every year, a museum's collection and habits of collecting is evolving. While rarely is there a truly radical change in habit, for institutions of such tectonic movement, even slight changes are many times the subject of great criticism and celebration. "The National", the Fort Wayne Museum of Art's biennial exhibition, has been developed in a way over the past 6 years to highlight a single aspect of the contemporary art world. At first, "The National" was centered upon figurative work, but now it is changing to coincide with a strategic initiative being implemented in the museum's collecting habits to center upon photography. This hybrid invitational/juried exhibition includes some "photography stars" like Julie Blackmon, Martina Lopez, and Nick Veasey, it is much more exciting to see the other, many times younger artists as their work takes forms and the viewer can see new dominant voices being created before them.

While all of the works are interesting in some degree or another, "The National" does seem to include a rather extreme focus on both the landscape and the figure, with very few examples of abstraction. While it is true that even in these landscape and figurative pieces, the subject matter was stretched and examined in a variety of new ways, this viewer could not help but come to see some images as feeling almost repetitive at times. And while many critics would complain about such a focus on photography in general, "The National" does a very good job of undeniably asserting photography as a versatile medium, and one which will not become stale or fall short anytime soon. As the exhibition's curatorial statement includes, " In terms of aesthetic quality, technical innovation, and cultural relevance, contemporary photography has increasingly proven its dominance as a 21st Century art form." "The National" include a large variety of great talent, but three photographers' work would seem to stand out more than the others, including Morgan Barrie, Ashley Beatty, and Martina Lopez.

Morgan Barrie's work, "Transplants" is a digital collage in an archival pigment print. This piece of given second prize, and was purchased by the museum. Part of her current body of work "In Arcadia", which deals with relationships between humans, animals, and the environments in which they inhabit. Barrie's images lack the common romanticisms garnered in the modern concept of man and nature being capable of co-habitating and highlights the disarming power mechanics given to most interactions between the natural and the man-made. Barrie's work, from a purely technical standpoint, plays off of Renaissance traditions be they composition, the shape of the picture plane itself, and even color and lighting. These staged scenes are meticulously created to give subtle clues as well as loud booming reminders of the true nature of our relationship to nature in general. "Transplants" does this through

Ashley Beatty, a Fort Wayne native, is represented with "NV Skirt #1", a digital print depicting a pristine Western landscape inhabited only by a barely dimensional piece of stark white cloth hovering out and inside of the picture plane. Beatty's artist statement includes, "My work has involved the creation of photographs that are both visual observation and conceptually set up images that allude to a story". Beatty's work becomes an extension of herself in a way. Beyond the boundaries of, but very similar to the concept of "blogging", Beatty's photographs become indelible indications of the experiences she has encountered, grappled with, and ultimately assimilated in her journey. This process if referenced elsewhere in her statement with a mention of synthesis and antithesis. While Beatty's work is a fabricated piece of life which none of us have had - an experience born out of communication rather than reality. The work is not a representation of Beatty's understanding of her experiences, but more an tool with which she explains them.

Martina Lopez's work "Elsewhere" and "Self-Portrait" are both technically exquisite pieces of photography which haunt the viewer, both due to their construction, and to their surreal assertiveness. Lopez created these images as hand waxed pigment prints, itself an uncommon method, but one that uses an imperceptibly thin layer of wax to protect the image and provide it a somewhat aged (or better yet, "preserved") feeling. Lopez is a School of the Art Institute of Chicago alumni for her MFA degree, and is currently a professor at Notre Dame University. Lopez's work has been featured in Aperture Magazine, is in the collections of various major American Museums, and has garnered her representation with the Henry Art Gallery. Lopez's work within the digital realm, and the exploration of 19th century portrait and landscape work revolves around believability and malleability to some degree. In "Elsewhere", Lopez confronts the viewer with a flower-bearing woman with windswept hair standing eerily in a desolate landscape, reminiscent of the great plains region. There is no explanation of the ghostlike figure and it is as if the photo represents a vision, a fabrication or collision of various memories perceived simultaneously.

Other impressive contributions to "The National" include the Fort Wayne native, Jason Swisher's "Rumsey Alley", a digital print using his signature multiple exposures and vignette motifs, as well as Frances Denny's "Hope in the guest bedroom (Maine), which is a perfect and crisp moment. Also, Yijun Liao's "Home-made Sushi" from her "Experimental Relationships" series of work was quite interesting, in that it documents the actions between herself and younger boyfriend as they explore gender norms in relation to both sex and power. All of these artists, and more, present a vast array of beautiful photographic work in "The National", what is bound to become a successful venture for our Museum and our local arts scene.

For More Information:
"The National: Best Contemporary Photography"
Now-June 15th
May 31: Martina Lopez Lecture, 2-4pm, $10 guests

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