Seeing the first wave of FotoFocus shows

The 2016 FotoFocus Biennial officially launches Thursday, but many exhibits are already on view, including "Duane Michals: Sequences, Tintypes and Talking Pictures" and "Marlo Pascual: Three Works."

click to enlarge "The Journey of the Spirit After Death (detail)" by Duane Michals
"The Journey of the Spirit After Death (detail)" by Duane Michals
(Editor’s note – As part of CityBeat’s coverage of the many exhibitions and activities that comprise the October-long FotoFocus Biennial, art writers Maria Seda-Reeder and Kathy Schwartz will be contributing online stories about their experiences attending events. Seda-Reeder will be writing during the first two weeks of October; Schwartz the last two. Here is the first story.)

The FotoFocus Biennial program for 2016 has not even officially launched yet (that happens Oct. 6, with a keynote lecture at 6:30 p.m. at the Aronoff Center by Roxana Marcoci, senior curator of photography at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art), and yet there are a ton of related shows that have already opened.

Currently on view at the Carl Solway Gallery in the West End is an exhibition of Duane Michals’ work, both old and new. Duane Michals: Sequences, Tintypes and Talking Pictures showcases some of the artist’s better-known series of sequential photographs from the late 1960s that played around with narrative. Also included are more recent hand-painted tintypes from 2012 and a series of twelve short films — Michals’ first foray into video, shocking considering he was working primarily in sequential images nearly fifty years ago.

Meanwhile, Marlo Pascual: Three Works is in the street-level space at the downtown Weston Art Gallery and features the artist’s enigmatic “photographic manipulations,” which juxtapose enlarged black-and-white prints with props such as a conch shell or an overturned stepladder. By doing this, Pascual calls our attention to the object-ness of an image —collapsing our idea of the photograph as merely a recorder of objects.

The downstairs galleries at the Weston house an exhibition of 20th-century photographs curated by FotoFocus Artistic Director Kevin Moore (who curated eight out of the more than 60 FotoFocus-related exhibitions) from the collection of New York collector and Ohio native Gregory Gooding. Named as a play on the term “after nature”— an outmoded term for still life — After Industry features the black-and-white documentations of post-industrial landscapes by such iconic American and German artists as Walker Evans, Bernd and Hilla Beche and Ursula Schulz-Dornburg.

William Knipscher’s exhibition at The Carnegie in Covington, Where the Light Goes, also opened up in early September, and this small yet intimate showing of the local photographer’s work in the upstairs galleries also includes a small closet off of the gallery. Visitors are encouraged to open and close the closet door in order to allow light into the room, which creates photographic images directly onto the origami-folded paper surface.

Knipscher also curated a lovely interdisciplinary exhibition of works by the artist Peter Happel Christian, entitled Sword of the Sun, currently on view in the Convergys Gallery at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. Weaving together photographic works and sculpture, Christian’s use of meta-imagery seems perfectly in line with current trends in contemporary photography.  An upcoming artist reception at 6 p.m. Oct. 9 will feature a panel discussion with the artist.

Sheida Soleimani, an Iranian-American photographer and Cincinnati native, opened her Medium of Exchange exhibition last weekend at Over-the-Rhine’s 1305 Gallery and it features half a dozen new photographs. The artist has been teaching at the Rhode Island School of Design since graduating with her Masters of Fine Art degree from Michigan’s Cranbrook Academy of Art last year, and her sourced, cut-up and reassembled visual vignettes are re-photographed as slick, seductive works. Their beauty belies a more sinister content, in which the artist uses cultural symbols and signifiers to critique the political doctrines of oppressive Middle Eastern regimes.

Lastly, I was surprised to see that the mysterious FoRealism Tribe was on the list of FotoFocus events, so I made a trip to Over-the-Rhine’s Frameshop on Main Street to check it out.  The group, which would show up at various events around town several years back wearing full-body outfits often made from repurposed materials and reminiscent of artist Nick Cave’s Soundsuits, has on display a suit made from printed crowd-sourced selfies. It has a circular-mirror face (ostensibly to take one’s photo in) inside of a sarcophagus-like vitrine and is in Frameshop’s front retail space.  

According to FotoFocus materials regarding this “#SELFIEMONSTER,” the figural sculpture will encourage visitors to abstain from taking selfies “that contaminate the digital landscape into the physical world.” Like shooting ducks in a barrel, all of the photographs the FoRealism Tribe used in creating this selfie suit feature a homogeneous group of (predictably) young, white and physically fit photographers. If the FoRealism Tribe had crowd-sourced selfies from more diverse sources, the piece would seem less of an indictment of those who use photography (like so many before them) for the purposes of biographical documentation. 

In an age when groups of marginalized persons are finally getting some visibility — largely thanks to social media — the internet is a relatively democratic and accessible public forum.  A simple act like sharing a selfie might disrupt normalized views on beauty, allowing people more control over their personal narrative.

As the theme of this year’s Biennial is “the undocument,” and so many of the other shows play off of the ways in which photographers tend to manipulate the visual world, choosing to demonize the photograph’s most common — and perhaps accessible iteration seems somewhat myopic.

CONTACT MARIA SEDA-REEDER: [email protected]

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