Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Black and white photography in the juried exhibition

I found out one of my photographs, Skylines (Illinois), will be in the “Architecture and Landscape” online show at Black Box Gallery, a gallery based out of Portland Oregon.

This is exciting news. I admire Black Box’s mission to promote contemporary photography. Goodie!

Now is probably a good time to write about black and white photography and its place in the contemporary art scene/world/market/whatever you want to call it when people get together for all things art. My perception (meaning no concrete evidence except a few strained critiques) is that non-photographers (yes I say that) believe black and white prints are dated. Or, that black and white imagery is a superficial trick artists employ to make photos look more “artsy” aka more sellable.

Sure. I have seen and even represented artists who knowingly create gimmicks to make their work seem more artistic/good/interesting/palatable/whatever. It IS annoying. My biggest pet peeve: the artists who apply the “paint” filter (in Photoshop) to their photographs. It’s a bad idea but people tend to love it so what do I know.

Anyway, it has been a struggle to get some of my Wanderlust photos in contemporary art exhibitions. Grant it, people may not enjoy the imagery, which is fine. I accept that. But, I can think of two other reasons. First, it is fair to say that only certain galleries are going to show black and white photography and it takes some research to find those spaces. That’s why I am glad to have found Black Box gallery.

The second reason may be the juried exhibition format itself. When I do see black and white photographs in juried exhibitions of “contemporary” art, the photo’s subject matter ranges from obscene to sardonic. And usually, the photograph tells an obvious story about a person, place, or thing.

Artists who create a series of works struggle to find a place within the group, juried exhibition format. I am one of those artists. Wanderlust is an example. It is a photo-essay and the images should be displayed together, in a specific sequence. In short, the images needs to be exhibited together to adequately do the job of saying what the project intends to say. The Wanderlust project is about modern travel; how dizzying it is, its rhythm, shapes, and patterns. These things are hard to describe with just one photograph.

I call the opposite type of image-making, “one-note” meaning you can see only one piece and get the gist of what the artist wants to communicate. One may be enough and it has to be for juried group exhibitions where an artist is likely to have only one or two works included. That piece must encompass who the artist is and what the artist does. I believe in the corporate world this is called “branding.”

It is fascinating how capitalism affects every social interaction, even exhibition formats. In our boom and burst economy, privately funded galleries stay afloat by juried, group exhibitions where artists seeking exposure pay for entry. Don’t get me wrong; the format is mutually beneficial for galleries and artists. But it seems these exhibitions are largely comprised of the “one-noters,” the pieces I hope (but don’t strive) to create so that I have something to enter into juried exhibitions. This has been my experience.

This crowdfunding strategy is popular for art galleries as state-based support wanes more and more. In the latest news, crowdfunding has generated a lot of attention and even controversy as a business model. For instance, the potato salad affair:

For the time, I am pursuing a solo exhibition of the Wanderlust project so that all the photographs may be exhibited together. Until then, I’ll enjoy the increased exposure via the juried, online show format. Cheers.

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