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Photographing Eden lost–Philadelphia Photo Arts Center

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September 25, 2009   ·   2 Comments

Phil Jackson, Davis with Deer, Upstate NY 2007, 2007, Chromogenic print, 30 x 40

Philadelphia has just gained another place to view great photography. The new Philadelphia Photo Arts Center (PPAC) at the Crane Arts Center is showing juried works by 21 young artists in the exhibit Next: Emerging Philadelphia Photographers.

Kyle Ferino, Death of a Salesman, 2008, chromogenic print, 21 x 21 inches

Kyle Ferino, Death of a Salesman, 2008, chromogenic print, 21 x 21 inches

Most of these photos depict ambiguous, uncomfortable scenarios of a damaged world. Kyle Ferino’s Death of a Salesman depicts a dishevelled, shoeless man in a suit under an overpass, draped like a river god. The scenario is a kind of netherworld glade, hidden from respectable eyes. That hidden world, a disreputable Eden, made me think of Jeff Wall. There’s a mix of magic, threat and myth–the powerful scariness of someone who has become an outsider. Or maybe the subject is nothing more than a homeless guy in a safe corner.

Xiomara Benavides, Don Hilario, 2009, archival inkjet print, 16.5 x 21.75 inches

Xiomara Benavides, Don Hilario, 2009, archival inkjet print, 16.5 x 21.75 inches

Xiomara Benavides’ Don Hilario is filled with questions. Was this a photoshoot portrait with backdrop in which the edges of the backdrop show to exhibit the artifice? And what about the chalked words on the ground? Is this crazy? Is he crazy? Are these his words? Yet Don Hilario looks so dignified, even in his jeans, sitting on a flimsy garden chair in a garden with a phony backdrop. Is the garden his? If not, whose? Whose backdrop is it, anyway? The image brings up all the early 20th Century immigrant photo portraits,  with serious, dignified subjects posed in front of a pictorial backdrop. The color, the jeans, and the buildings peeking out from behind the backdrop are incontrovertible clues that this photo is not from a time past.

FeliciaPerretti_1_Car_Seat_Fight copy

Felicia Perretti, Car Seat Fight, 2009, archival inkjet print, 20 x 20 inches

Snapshots may be the style of Felicia Perretti’s photos, but her on-the-fly photos are not exactly family vacations. Car Seat Fight, framed by a car window, shows a wailing child being roughly transported by a woman clearly irritated. It’s unclear who started the fight, and it’s unclear if the child is merely being moved or is about to catch hell on the side of the road. The view from inside the car suggests there’s a player in the scenario who is inside. The side of the road is a snatch of besmirched nature, a transitory world beyond the rules of orderly gardens and the home front. The photo becomes an emotionally fraught moral tale in which fairness and justice come under scrutiny.

Phil Jackson, Davis with Deer, Upstate NY 2007, 2007, Chromogenic print, 30 x 40

Phil Jackson, Davis with Deer, Upstate NY 2007, 2007, Chromogenic print, 30 x 40

And speaking of roadside moral tales, Phil “Filthy” Jackson’s road kill photo with what I take to be a distraught Davis, may in fact be a hunter and his prey. Either way, Bambi is under threat from the human race. As in all these photos above, Eden is lost.

Daniel Traub, Tree, North West Philadelphia 2008, 2008, archival inkjet print, 20 x 24 inches

Daniel Traub, Tree, North West Philadelphia 2008, 2008, archival inkjet print, 20 x 24 inches

The Eden theme comes up in a couple of photos by Daniel Traub, but in Traub’s cause, Eden isn’t so much lost as aspired to. His Tree, North West Philadelphia 2008, is a scrappy survivor on a trash strewn rowhouse front lawn, nature’s toehold in an unwelcoming environment. Traub’s Two boys, North Philadelphia 2008, shows two slightly uncomfortable, vulnerable youths, one hiding behind his hoodie with his legs in a posturing wide stance, one with his hands clasped shyly in front and his legs close together, in front of a weedy array of growth. Their young good looks also suggest survival, as does the tree, and the weedy Eden behind them tells pretty much the same story. (Traub also has an exhibit up at the Art Institute of Philadelphia until Oct. 16).

Sarah Moore, Anterior Future, 2008, archival inkjet print, 32 x 26 inches

Sarah Moore, Anterior Future, 2008, archival inkjet print, 32 x 26 inches

Formal issues also caught my eye–Sarah Moore’s surprising framing of shots–she splits a woman’s head in two in the diptych, Fall, which also is about textures of a scarf and the landscape–and a sort of Eden. Again using a surprising split to very different effect, Moore shoots the back window of a car in Anterior Future, putting the humans only partially in the picture, with their matching herringbone coats (are they friends or mother and daughter?).  The suggestion of time past/road travelled, out the back window, colors the story of the two women and their related coats.

Matthew Thomas Cianfrani, Contemplating charred hotel on cloudless day in Chaoyang District, 2009, archival inkjet print on rice paper, 20 x 60 inches

Matthew Thomas Cianfrani, Contemplating charred hotel on cloudless day in Chaoyang District, 2009, archival inkjet print on rice paper, 20 x 60 inches

The rice paper surface of Matthew Thomas Cianfrani’s Contemplating charred hotel on cloudless day in Chaoyang District suggests China as much as the title does. The atmospheric photo, with its sense of disintegration and insubstantiality rings true to its message. The domineering form of the destroyed building is far from the gritty urban environments of the other cityscapes in this exhibit. The photo communicates its own sort of horror and regret.

Hannah Price, Twin Day, Fall 2008, archival inkjet print, 24 x 20 inches

Hannah Price, Twin Day, Fall 2008, archival inkjet print, 24 x 20 inches

Some of the smaller photos in the show are given short shrift, hung too close together.   But all in all, this is a terrific show and a great beginning. Others in the exhibit are Martin Buday, Christopher Gianunzio, Jaime Alvarez, Samantha Sheehan, Chad States, Tom Goodman, Danielle Bogenhagen, Gene Smirnov, Bob Myaing, Elyse Derosia, Hannah Price, DM Witman, Kelsey Johnson, and Joshua Lanzara. The exhibit was juried by Ariel Shanberg, executive director of the Center for Photography at Woodstock. Woodstock! …speaking of metaphors for Eden lost!

The exhibit is up to Nov. 29.

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2 Responses to “Photographing Eden lost–Philadelphia Photo Arts Center”

  1. Xiomara Benavides says:

    Thank you so much for your review! Sorry I am a little late, but it hadn’t dawned on me that I could make a comment.

  2. libby says:

    Yes, yes, you can!!!! Glad you saw the post. I loved that photo. Very redolent, interesting choices in there, Xiomara.

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