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Friday, October 15, 2010

Arriving in Atlanta and Celebrating Photography

I've never been to Atlanta before so I've really looked forward to this. I arrived and began gallery hoping shortly after. The first thing I saw that I love is Paul Hagedorn's "Peachtree Battle."

In these images below you can get a feel for the meticulous and extraordinary work that went into each large scale photo created over 353 days. Hagedorn used a magnifying glass attachment over a wide angle lens, without strobes, using kiddie fireworks and smoke bombs to simulate warfare. His work forces the viewer to think not only about reality and fantasy clashing, but how often we approach war as a game. TV is full of video games with tons of death and exploding action.

I found myself thinking about how fascinating it would be to show this work opposite the work of photojournalists, blurring the lines between the fun of looking at toys exploding and the true horror that millions of people face everyday around the world. There is something so insanely fun about this work, yet I can't help but think of the real images I have scene that are somewhat similar. The irony is that no photographer could get this close without being killed.




Then it was onto Jackson Fine Art and the thought-provoking work of Joseph Guay, whose "Memory Portraits" featured large black and white portraits of people he had met on over the past three years in Atlanta, New York, and Cuba. He asked each to carry a small camera and capture, at eye level, moments within their lives. The result is a projection of each participant's memory; the videos capture in real time the images and experiences that inform a person's psychic life.


The black squares on their chests are where the videos run, and the two portraits above made the most fascinating films: Bubba D Licious (top) because the film was so intimate--family and friends at home (my guess), and Vashaun Jones (bottom) who is blind, and obviously cannot see the film he made. It had me thinking a lot about the use of still and moving image, something photographers in New York are talking about (and experimenting with) all the time these days. It was as if we were given a small window into the intimacies of some other life.

And yet we were not finished. Next was a private tour of the Peter Sekaer exhibit at the High Museum of Art.

Sekaer was a contemporary of Walker Evans, and work in the mid-1930s for the US Housing Authority, Rural Electrification Administration, Office of Indian Affairs and the Office of War Information. In 1936 Sekaer accompanied Evans, who was hired by the Resettlement Administration (RA, later to become the FSA) on a photographic journey throughout the South, often shooting the same subject. But where Evans images were more impersonal, Sekaer went to the root of the humanity of the people he found, in particular in sums around the country. As an outsider (he was born in Denmark) he was most interested in seeing people as they were, and was able to put people at ease enough to be invited into their homes.

For the image above, titled "Family Shelling Pecans, Austin, Texas", Sekaer attached a label to the back of the print providing information about the subject: "Leonidas Hernandes—He is 78, his wife 39. They have six children. The entire family works at pecan shelling—piecework—3 cents a pound. Daily output for the family is 10–12 lbs (30–35 cents a day)."

I suppose it was hard not to be overshadowed by the like of Evans, Minor White, Dorothea Lange, etc. in those days, but the High Museum has amassed the largest collection of his work, and it is a wonderful body of work full of poignant and illuminating images of American life in the South during the depression. While generations have passed, I find myself thinking of our current economic mess, and the photographs don't look so far in the past.

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