ONWARD and upwards with Project Basho

Sarah Kaufman photo Untitled Blue Smoke
Sarah Kaufman
“Untitled, Blue Smoke” Digital C-Print, 40″ x 40″, Edition 1 of 10
(Juror Award). From Project Basho’s ONWARD.

Sometimes I’m an early adopter, and sometimes it takes me a while. For example, only last weekend did I make it to Project Basho — for the first time ever (it’s been open for about a year and a half). They’ve got a wonderful group photography exhibit on view and I met one of the artists in the show, Isaac Schell, at the space for a chat. Speaking of early adopters, here’s Libby’s post about Basho’s 2008 ONWARD show, which sounds like it too was a great show.

Phil Jackson
#30. Phil Jackson
“Davis with Deer, Upstate NY 2007” C-Print, 19.75″ x 27.5″

ONWARD. Basho’s annual juried emerging artists show, is HUGE. With 73 works by 69 artists and juried by Peter Barberie, Photography Curator at the PMA, the exhibit has great people photos; interesting landscapes and a few still lifes, from young photographers (and photographers young at heart) who know their photo history and are working in the traditions but making them their own. The show’s hung well, everything ranged in a line that starts in the entryway and moves down the corridor and into and around the big back room/digital lab. Works are hung so that they talk nicely with each other: Nudes and swimming scenes near each other in the flesh zone; odd landscape moments where the built and the natural come into contact in the man/nature zone…just two examples.


Shane Butler
#19. Shane Butler
“Store Owner at Sunshine Florist” Inkjet Print, 13″ x 19″
(Honorable Mention)

Among the best people photos in the show are two by Sarah Kaufman, including Untitled Blue Smoke (top of the post) which catches a woman, nude, in such an unguarded natural moment you have to wonder how many minutes or shots it took to get to this level. Phil Jackson’s Davis with Deer, Upstate NY 2007 is also great.  It’s shocking for its subject matter (roadkill) and for the eerie allegiance between the serious young man who raises the deer’s head and the deer. The gesture of lifting of the animal’s head is an ambiguous and almost operatic gesture that shows the animal’s beauty and claims the animal beauty in all of us. Jackson, by the way, is an artist that Libby and I curated into our show, ID at Projects Gallery last year. It’s great to see him in this show.

Shane Butler‘s Store Owner at Sunshine Florist is so still and composed it seems to come right out of a design 101 on how to pose a subject for a portrait. What’s really great is the somber and unfriendly affect of the lady whose bright blue-green sweater exudes a pleasure in life that her face does not.


Isaac Schell
#42. Isaac Schell 
“Somewhere in Southwest Philadelphia, I know it was not a dream” Inkjet Print, 36″ x 31″ Edition 3 of 50

Schell’s photo “Somewhere in Southwest Philadelphia,” (top) is one of the best landscape pieces in the show. The beautiful, jungle-dense scene might seem to be about nature but on closer inspection you realize that it’s a portrait of somebody’s scrapwood hut in the dense patch of vines and weeds close to the railroad tracks. This bit of the Third World in Our Town makes the work shocking. We keep being told we’re not in a depression and that we will not have anything like the Great Depression ever again, but this encounter in the woods by the tracks reminds you that despite what the statistics say some people are living in circumstances right out of 1928. Schell said he’s been back to the area since he took the shot to try to find the little hut but that he can’t find it. Either it’s moved–or been taken down–or it’s been swallowed up by the jungle.Schell, who I’ve known as a street photographer focused on odd bits of architecture or urban infrastructure (he had a Fleisher Challenge in 2006 and has shown at Copy Gallery and Topstitch) , told me that he’s been taking photographs since he was a kid. His father, an anthropologist with an interest in photography, had a darkroom in their house and encouraged his son’s interest. Schell, who grew up in Albany where his dad teaches at SUNY Albany, said his grandmother was a painter who discouraged her son (Isaac’s father) from being an artist. So when Isaac was interested in photography, his father was happy to encourage him.

Schell told me that after shying away from photographs of people he’s now begun to take photos of his friends…and even in some cases, of strangers he meets on the street, whom he negotiates with for a picture-shoot right there. He uses a big view camera with a 4×5″ negative and slow exposure with his head under the old fashioned hood to keep light out. He also uses a tripod and all this heavy equipment he takes with him on his bike riding around looking for things to photograph.  When he finds a person he wants to photograph it’s not a quick shot and it’s over.  The set up and the exposure time requires a subject to be still or at least willing to try to be so for the seconds or minute it takes to take the photo.  I am reminded of Richard Renaldi whose view camera shots of people in bus stations and on empty dirt roads are also made this old fashioned and laborious way. (See post)


I asked Schell where he processed his big negatives and he said he takes them to New York to community spaces with large negative scanners and he works on them there. Then he comes back to Philly where his friend and former Drexel classmate, Jeffrey Stockbridge, helps him with printing (Stockbridge has a business printing for others).He’s not interested in making video work although he does like storytelling. “But I like the vagueness of the photograph,” he said.  I look forward to seeing more as the body of work develops.

In addition to this show (up to Feb. 22), Schell’s got work right now in Photography 28 at Perkins Center for the Arts in Moorestown, NJ, and he will be in the upcoming Woodmere annual emerging artists show (opening March 15).

I love that Basho is a working studio as well as an exhibit space but be aware that when people are working in the darkroom, the smell of chemicals wafts through the air. And in what amounts to an act of generosity, the people who run Basho’s website have put the entire show online! You can see it virtually here.