Post by Emily Friedman
Daydream Nation, PPAC’s 1st Annual Contemporary Photography Exhibition, opened several weeks ago in the Crane Arts Building. Philadelphia Photo Art Center received 170 entries for the juried show, from which they chose 34 photographs by 34 different artists and awarded three prizes. Jock Reynolds and Joshua Chuang, respectively Yale University Art Gallery’s Director and Assistant Curator of Photographs, judged the entries.
I saw the show before the opening reception, missing the announcement of the winners and walking around the show with fresh eyes. The theme of Daydream Nation (probably not coincidentally also the name of a seminal Sonic Youth album) is photography’s ability to convey the daydreams of the photographer and explore the line between fantasy and reality. Like our daydreams, photographs can be whatever we want them to be and are often infused with a little mystery.
PPAC’s descriptive blurb notes that, “each image shares a subtle underlying mystique.” They do, and the photographs in the show that made the biggest impressions are those that really make you ask yourself “what am I looking at?”, “what exactly is happening here?”
Jerri A. Castillo’s inkjet print Clutter is one of the works that provokes this kind of response. It takes a closer look to figure out that you are looking at several layers within the photograph, including what seems to be a projected image. Even after studying the photograph, it is difficult to tell how many elements are at play. The work plays perfectly into the show’s theme, because only the photographer really knows what went into producing the image.
Prin Amorapanth’s untitled #4 is another highlight. It is full of mystique; we can’t figure out much about the photograph’s context beyond it being of a child and a woman in the wind. The subtle diagonal, beginning at the woman’s head and ending at the blur to the child’s right, is a really pleasing composition. But the mystery of where these people are and what surrounds them ups the image’s appeal.
Another of these mysterious content photos is Susan Bank’s Piercing the Darkness. The image seems to be of a warehouse or storage room, and the buggy hints at a foreign country, but what to make of the boxes with names and dates? Are they full of bones or ashes? Or just personal possessions?
The inclusion of both color and black and white photography gives the show a nice rhythm and keeps it varied. And the juxtaposition between the two types of photographs draws out their different moods: black and white usually feels classic and serene, and color often gives off a more modern, tangible vibe. The vibrant shades in many of the color prints here especially standout. Most of the works in Daydream Nation are inkjet prints, and eye-popping colors, like those in Mallory Johnson’s Frames, are the happy product of modern printing capabilities.
But that’s not to say that all of the color photographs are bright and energetic. In the first prize-winning image, Old Lock 24 Campground, Daniel Shea deploys color so subtly that the photograph looks like it could be in black and white. The photo’s intrigue lies behind the window in the two ghost-like smokestacks. After Shea’s image, Andrew Rugge‘s Philadelphia, PA 2010 and Tony Chirinos‘s El Coco Lococ, 2009 took second and third place, respectively.
Daydream Nation — which runs to Aug. 21 — demonstrates that some of the most engaging, pleasing photographs are those with a touch of mystery. Elusive subject matter or methods that only the photographer really understands keep the viewer on their toes.