Weekly Update – Facial recognition at Gallery 339

For a long time now, artists have been stealing faces. Portraiture, whether sculptural, painted or printed, is a thief. Even when a portrait shows a likeness, the face is often there to represent a larger truth about the human condition.  No matter how much Abraham Lincoln looks like himself in art, he is always the great emancipator and a symbol of liberty and justice. “About Face” at Gallery 339 takes aim at the human face — in black and white and color photographs by 25 artists — and arrays a small congregation on the walls. Beautiful and compelling, moody, funny or poetic, the images are not in the least abstract but they are all conceptual, and they all “steal” a face for art.

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Donald E. Camp Captain, Front Waiter and Back Waiter / Kisha Picore (from Dust Shaped Hearts series), 2007 Photographic Casein Monoprint

The show’s initial foray into face-ness — the first thing you see when you enter the gallery, is a wall of predominantly sober, sad and death-imbued images.  Donald Camp’s ghostly photo with casein and raw earth pigment,  “Captain” — like all the artist’s works — resembles the “Shroud of Turin.”  The grainy, close-cropped image of a man staring up at you over the rim of his glasses looks as if it was transmitted by magic from the underworld to the surface of the paper.  Phillip Toledano’s dad, in his digital C-print “me and dad” is an elderly man who is close to death.

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Neil Winokur Andy Warhol, 1982 Cibachrome Print

There’s a gaunt and haunted-looking Andy Warhol, pictured by Neil Winoker in a 1982 Cibachrome print, whose blue background is eerily evocative of the void. The wall’s anchor piece is Andrea Modica’s platinum/palladium print of a skull sitting on what looks like a corrugated cardboard table top.  The picture’s title, “Colorado Springs, CO (A15, Male, 56 years old)” implies that the skull is a specimen of some unknown and unnamed person.  And it also implies, of course, the truth that in death all skulls are pretty much the same.

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Richard Renaldi Cory, 2008 Gelatin Silver Contact Print

But the large show has ups, too, as well as downs.  Even this wall has a playful image, and several that are lyrical without being mournful. A Facebook-like profile photo of “Grant,” a smiling young man by Davin Youngs is positively ebullient.  Richard Renaldi’s “Cory” almost jumps off the wall.  The small gelatin silver print of a young man in profile radiates a life lived intensely.  Paul Cava’s pigment print, “Denise (New Mexico),” and Jason Robinette’s archival pigment print, “Untitled 13,” both exude yearning and old fashioned beauty.

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Caitlin Teal Price Leslie, 2010 Archival Pigment Print

There’s plenty more in the exhibit, lots of it magical.  Like Caitlin Price’s “Leslie,” an archival pigment print that captures a women in a forbidding space — a dark shadowy zone under a cloverleaf highway overpass — her face illuminated by an oval of bright light that catches only her facial features as she stares down and away. It’s a weird and cinematic portrayal, whose celestial beam of light is echoed in Modica’s “Oneonta Yankee, Kent Wallace,” a Platinum/Palladium Contact Print, another face lit by a mystery light.

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George Krause Waitress, Anguila (from Sfumato series), 2003 Archival Pigment Print

Whether intended or not, the wide range of shooting styles and approaches  — from gelatin silver prints by Yuichi Hibi to screen grabs of a web project by Jen Davis — conveys the vibrancy of photography today.  It’s a tool able to flex to just about any practitioner’s needs. Liz Rideal makes Chromogenic prints from photobooth pictures.  Her two portraits, one a man, one a woman, depict the subjects’ heads peeping through slits in two vertical-striped cloths.  The element of fun that usually accompanies photobooth shots is undercut by the serious expression on the man’s face and the open-eyed innocence of the woman; both become sad clowns trapped in all the stripes.

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David Graham Northern Liberties, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 2006 Chromogenic Print

David Graham’s C-print portrait of Elijah Wood is not really a portrait but a street scene of two wheat-pasted posters for the movie “Everything Is Illuminated.”  Time and weather have eaten away at the posters, but like the “Picture of Dorian Gray,” Wood’s youthful looks remain intact.

Henry Horenstein Scout, 2009 Archival Pigment Print 10 x 15 inches

The show is a summer refresher—on a warm day the gallery’s cool ambiance is welcoming and the faces totally engaging.  Here’s a winning double header — pair this photo exhibit with a trip to the Art Museum’s “Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus.”  Then think about how photography has stolen portraiture – and faces — from contemporary painting.

Read this at Philly Weekly.


“About Face” to Sept. 10.  Gallery 339, 339 S. 21st St. 215 731 1530.

All images courtesy of Gallery 339.