Fields of Vision
A collective hopes to invigorate Baltimore’s photography scene
Published: December 7, 2011
Fields of Vision
On display at Urbanite@case[werks] gallery through Jan. 5.
For more information, visit casewerks.com.
Last year, local artist Sean Scheidt won a juried salon at the now defunct Hexagon Space with a mixed-media piece. As a result, he was given a solo exhibition. Scheidt says the organizers were surprised when he wanted to show mostly photographs, though they acquiesced. Reactions of that sort are common in Baltimore, Scheidt says. “I do mixed media and photography,” he says. “I’ve always found more room to show the stuff with paint involved.”
Scheidt has since become a member of (in parenthesis), a new photography collective that aims to create more opportunities for photographers and videographers to show their work. The group, composed of six local photographers of diverse backgrounds, wants to create a community for photographers and a forum for discussion about the field. Ultimately they hope to establish a permanent gallery dedicated to contemporary photography.
Urbanite photographer and Gutter magazine co-founder J.M. Giordano dreamed up the idea. “Baltimore is a clique-ish place when it comes to art,” he says. “So what you have now are photographers who aren’t part of a certain group, and they’re relegated to cafés and bars. . . . We don’t have a space dedicated to contemporary photography, while most cities have at least one.”
Early this fall, Giordano met with five other photographers and, with the encouragement of Baltimore Museum of Art Director Doreen Bolger, the collective was formed. It wasn’t long before the group was given the opportunity to launch its first show, at the Urbanite@Case[werks] gallery on St. Paul Street. “It was the kick in the pants that we needed,” says collective member Marian Glebes, photographer, mixed-media artist, and frequent curator.
Judging by the attendance at the opening of its first show, the audience is there. More than 200 people attended the opening of Fields of Vision on Dec. 2. For the show, each member—Scheidt, Giordano, Glebes, Jill Fannon, Dean Alexander, and frequent City Paper contributor Josh Sisk—selected a genre and chose several photographers to survey within that genre. Because of the layout of the gallery, the genres—modern portraiture, performance in photography, landscapes, alternative processing, photojournalism, and contemporary fashion—are not necessarily discretely grouped; one wouldn’t even know that they had been the organizing principle, in fact. In the course of choosing their pieces and hanging the show, the curators discovered that there was a good deal of overlap between their chosen areas.
“The show winds up meshing together really well,” Glebes says as she helps hang a mysterious, vaguely disturbing photo by Aiden Simon of a seminude figure lying in a field of tall grass. “You lay the rules so you don’t have to stick to them. That’s part of the fun of the show.”
For this first exhibition, each member was encouraged to include a piece of his or her own work. In the future, the collective will largely serve a curatorial role, Giordano says. But some pieces by collective members are among the more striking in the exhibition. One wall, for instance, is dominated by two large photographs printed on burnished steel in glowing earth tones by Alexander. In one, a woman with a pile of blond hair wears a puffy-sleeved top and what appears to be the framework of a bustle. As the viewer walks past the photograph, the figure appears to move, different parts of the woman’s body emerging from seeming shadow. The effect is compelling, beautiful, nearly supernatural.
Other pieces tell a more straightforward story. A pair by photojournalist Julie Denesha depicts life among the Roma of Slovakia. In one, a woman (or man?) peels potatoes into a pot while sitting on a broken-down bed. The potato peeler’s face is composed and calm but the surroundings seem so impoverished they are on the verge of crumbling to dust.
Though it’s not immediately identifiable as such, the show even includes a sports photograph. The image, by Matt Roth, is a closeup of a fencer wearing a mask. It looks, at first glance, like a woman wearing a veil. “We don’t want to be snobbish,” Giordano says. “It’s a sports photograph, but taken with an artist’s eye.” The group has no restrictions on what genre of photography it will consider for curation.
And the effect of the first show, intentionally, is to give a sort of introduction, a broad survey of the field. Many of the group members chose to include photographers from whom they personally drew inspiration. Fannon picked local photographer Milana Braslavsky. “I thought about my own work,” Fannon says, “and Milana, I love her work. It made me think of the body in space, and I was led to Aiden Simon.” Fannon’s own pieces in the show, while very different from Braslavksy’s or Simon’s, do deal with “the body in space.” One photograph of hers is of an otherwise normal man on his hands and knees who somehow lacks a head.
Though the decision was an explicit one for this show, one gets the sense that the curatorial mark of each collective member will be readily apparent in future shows as well. Glebes, for instance, appears to be fascinated with process. The photographs she curated for this show by James Luckett, for instance, are methodical depictions of the artist’s solitary walks in Michigan. On short walks, he takes only a few photographs. On long walks, he takes dozens. Before Fields of Vision, Luckett had never printed any of these photos. “It’s sort of fascinating, the performative aspect,” Glebes says. “How do you show the work and the walk itself, a really private and sensitive thing?
“Curation is so much more than picking,” she adds. “It’s a different muscle that you flex.”
Glebes’ own work in the show is in the form of two stop-motion animations, both of which themselves depict processes. In creating one, Glebes built and burned a succession of small fires over the course of 14 hours, in a failed effort to ignite a lump of coal. The edited video lasts less than a minute and a half.
Scheidt’s picks, on the other hand, include several pieces that are only tangentially photographs. Laurie Snyder’s gorgeous blue cyanotypes of plants fold up into books. And Scheidt’s own work in the show, an image of a nude woman, looks uncannily like a painting. One steps closer to admire the brush strokes under the crazed, varnished surface only to discover that the image is a photograph.
Scheidt, who works in the photography department at Maryland Institute College of Art, says he hopes the collective can help make Baltimore a place where photographers want to stay. “There’s a whole generation of photographers coming up in Baltimore that have tons of talent,” he says, “but, honestly, most people go to New York or L.A. There aren’t a lot of exhibition opportunities, so people leave.”
A few days before the opening, Giordano makes some last-minute adjustments. (Selections from his personal collection of photography books are displayed in glass cases throughout the exhibition.) “It’s a good collection that really hasn’t been seen,” he says, surveying the room. “Once we have two or three shows . . . As a comic-book reader, it’s the third show that counts.”
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