Sunday, November 18, 2007

Bomb Pop Cheri

Saturday I made my way over to Marica Wood Gallery to see the new showing of Chris Verene's photography "Galesburg, Yes." (The New Chapters 2005-2007).

"My Cousins Candi and Heidi in Their Bedroom", 1987/2007

Referring to the body of work as "the new chapters" seems fitting. This show feels like a second installment of images and comments on this small town, picking up where Verene's last solo show at Marcia Wood left off. Some of the faces and names are familiar and the writings on the prints are like journal entries or snippets of gossip on the history of these well documented people.

With the "Galesburg Series", I am never quite sure how comfortable I am looking at the photographs, or that anyone is looking at the photographs on display in a gallery. There is a certain level of voyeurism and exploitation mingled with intimacy and appreciation (or concern?) as Verene watches and documents family and friends in the small town of Galesburg, Illinois, through his camera lens.

In the AJC review "Hometown Inspires Photographer" critic Lisa Kurzner argues that "Most of the work has a frenetic pitch, derived through the high-key color and cluttered interiors. Galesburg is an American version of how English photographers Nick Waplington and Richard Billingham photographed the lower middle class at home. But, unlike those of his predecessors, Verene's pictures seem injected with drama of the artist's (not the protagonists') own making."

While I would agree with that assertion, aren't all documentary photographers instilling a certain "drama" or biased perception into whatever or whomever they photograph in an effort to make the image emotionally compelling or at least interesting?

"Cheyenne", 2006

What has really changed my mind about Verene's intentions, and won me over as a fan, was a second showing of his work in the back room of the gallery called "Self Esteem" (New Works and the Past Decade of Decadence.) This body of work, which are glimpses of other, non-Galesburg related projects Verene has been doing over the last decade, gave clearer insight into Verene's own self awareness in wielding a camera and his relationship to the subject.

Examining the issue of exploitation, Verene attends "Camera Club" meetings where amateur photographers take pictures of aspiring models who are most likely posing nude under the false assumption that they are building up a portfolio and gaining experience with commerical photographers. Verene instead turns his attention on the photographers themselves, exploiting the exploiters, and capturing the perverse moments.

And the highlight of my day was the discovery of this lil gem....

"Bomb Pop Cherry", 1995

Move aside Girl with the Pearl Earring, make way for the pop sickle sporting Cheri Nevers. It is possible I have never wanted to possess any photograph as badly as I want this hanging on my living room wall. I can't really imagine there being another grey day with Cheri around to brighten it.

Switching around the letters of his name and donning slightly more form fitting and revealing clothing, Verene created his alter ego, the cross-dressing, luscious Cheri Nevers. As part of a series where friends dress in costume and create wild and fictional scenarios to be photographed, Verene is turning the camera on himself and friends. This series of work almost seems like a necessary reaction to the "Galesburg Series" for Verene to balance himself creatively. More images from these series were found in the now out-of-print book "Camera Club."

In the other half of the gallery, was the small but really worthwhile show "Click/shift/enter Part 2." The show "presents works by contemporary artists incorporating the spectrum of pre-photographic optical techniques to current state of the art video, photographic and digital technologies."

There are a series of interesting video pieces by Monica Duncan and Lara Odell. The videos play with elements of painting and photography, showing an almost completely still image while the background noise of passing cars, birds, etc, keep the viewer aware of passing time and unseen action.
A really friendly and well informed guy working the gallery said that the video should not be viewed "linearally" like most video, but instead he enjoys walking by in now and then and noticing that small things have changed in what seems like a frozen moment.

"I Shouldn't Be Hear", 2007, Peter Bahouth and Amber Boardman.

I'm not sure why this video is encased in a box of fake flowers if not to make the viewer feel like a peeping Tom, looking through a flower bed into a stereoscopic video of an interior not quite as interesting as the box itself.

There is a great piece by Tony Romano called "The Inward Morning, Variation #2" made of glass, one way mirrors, and model trees.

The inclusion of this sculpture into the show dealing with variations of the photographic medium is very interesting. Especially considering the piece is being sold as an edition of 3, much like a photograph. In a sense I guess it is a three-dimensional photograph, like a glamorized diorama, like a photograph it is still only viewed from one plane, one two-dimensional surface. But unlike a regular photograph of snow covered trees, looking at this never gets old.

Both of these shows are definitely worth checking out but will only be up at Marcia Wood Gallery for one more week! Shows close on Nov. 24th 2007.

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