In: Niagara

Pink Flamingos, from Melanie MacDonald’s series Florida Noir, 2017
June 28, 2021

Pink Flamingos, Melanie MacDonald, from the Florida Noir series, 2017

Melanie MacDonald’s Florida Noir series is comprised of many exquisitely painted works that evoke a multiplicity of responses, such as Pink Flamingos. When we spoke about these paintings, literary references peppered our conversation. MacDonald cited Douglas Coupland (who sometimes fancies himself an artist, and some fancy as a cultural prognosticator): “Florida isn’t so much a place where one goes to reinvent oneself, as it is a place where one goes if one no longer wished to be found.” I found myself ‘speaking’ that ‘Florida is going to dissolve into madness and alligators and toxic waste’, channeling Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. MacDonald paints trinkets of the utopian dream too often projected onto Florida (as in the desperate film noir Midnight Cowboy: “It’s not, not bad, huh? There’s no heat here, but you know, by the time winter comes, I’ll be in Florida.”). In her Florida Noir series, the kitschy, almost disposable trinkets so often dismissed as touristy ‘trash’ become interesting and contested motifs for memory, or even how ‘landscape’ (with all the history and myths in that genre, real or imagined) can be encapsulated in an oft – dismissed gauche ‘souvenir’ or mundane bit of porcelain. You can see more of her work here, and read more about her practice here. ~ Bart Gazzola

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Rebecca from Alec Soth’s series Niagara, 2005
June 9, 2021

Alec Soth, Rebecca, from the series Niagara, 2005

Soth’s images from his Niagara series are contradictions, and though he employs Niagara, N.Y., it might as well be Niagara Falls, ON, as I see the latter, familiar to me both as a child and adult, as well. There’s the obligatory tourist shots of the Falls, but these seem like fanciful ideals when contrasted with the motel facades and the people he captures, which are grittier. This is the real Niagara I know: a site that seems darker than the postcards, or a honeymoon long since gone stale. These are scenes that have much in common with films like Disappearance at Clifton Hill (2019), Niagara Falls (1953)  or Falling Angels (2003) – in that last, it looms in the subtext, only seen near the end, but a site of death, perhaps accidental, perhaps intentional. Soth’s people and places might be illustrations for Cataract City (2013), a tale of desperation also about a place that has a thin shiny veneer, already worn and flaking before we even scratch at it further. 

A final note: a contemporary photographer in Niagara is offering what might be considered an update on Soth’s vision. Jon Lepp’s The Official Open for Business Series is like checking in, on Soth’s Niagara, and the irony of the title is appropriately bleak, like the world of Soth’s Rebecca, that her child also now inhabits.~ Bart Gazzola

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