Rich-Joseph Facun | Little Cities | 2022May 26, 2023
Rich-Joseph Facun | Little Cities | 2022
…it takes an ocean of trust in the kingdom of rust…
The Cuyahoga River won’t kill you no more.
They cleaned it up back in ’74.
Well, you might get sick – but welcome to Ohio.
As I get older, there are some memories that still have an unexpected vivacity : and living again in the city and region where I grew up offers an odd looping of recollection, with elements of nostalgia – and the opposite of that, which might be cynicism or nihilism – informing and deforming my thoughts.
When I first encountered Rich – Joseph Facun’s images – specifically his Little Cities series – I felt transported back to my late teens and early twenties and shuttling back and forth between Windsor / Detroit and St. Catharines, seeing the underbelly of the rust belt wonderland. Specifically taking the train, and thus getting glimpses of smaller urban spaces across Southern Ontario that are often unseen or unconsidered, simply spaces to traverse on the way to somewhere else, not ‘valid’ to be ‘seen’ but as a space to be left behind or to be traversed with your mind – and destination elsewhere.
Facun’s scenes are part of a story that unfolds amidst the post-industrial United States – and these are spaces I’m familiar with from Niagara or the Windsor / Detroit region, that might be a ‘kingdom of rust’ or the ‘rust belt wonderland’ : a detritus of past ‘progress’, leavings of history that we might ignore or not acknowledge but that are literally part of the [memory of] landscape.
In Little Cities Rich-Joseph Facun “guides viewers on a meandering meditation through Southeastern Ohio by depicting the vernacular post-industrial landscape. In their quiet formality, the images call to mind past dreams, present disillusionment, and gently nudge us to look beyond what can be seen on the surface. Through recurring motifs, Facun excavates remaining signs of the Indigenous communities who once called this region home. In mankind’s hubris, we want to believe we shape the land we live on. Facun’s photographs remind us that the landscape contains memory, and it is witness to our misdeeds.” (from here)
Rich-Joseph Facun is a photographer of Indigenous Mexican and Filipino descent. His words : “His work aims to offer an authentic look into endangered, bygone, and fringe cultures—those transitions in time where places fade but people persist.
The exploration of place, community and cultural identity present themselves as a common denominator in both his life and photographic endeavors.
Before finding “home” in the Appalachian Foothills of southeast Ohio, Facun roamed the globe for 15 years working as a photojournalist. During that time he was sent on assignment to over a dozen countries, and for three of those years he was based in the United Arab Emirates.”
More of Facun’s work can be seen here and his IG is here. He has produced a publication for Little Cities, and I encourage you to spend some time with his Black Diamonds and 1804 series. Facun reminds me of Mary Ellen Mark‘s assertion as to how “photography is closest to writing, not painting. It’s closest to writing because you are using this machine to convey an idea. The image shouldn’t need a caption; it should already convey an idea.”
~ Bart GazzolaRead More
Beth Galton | AftermathMay 19, 2023
Beth Galton | Aftermath
[Galton’s] photographs, created with the help of prop-stylist Bette Blau, investigate the consequences to reproductive health and freedom after the Supreme Court’s decision in June to overturn Roe v. Wade. Since then, information about how to give oneself an abortion has surged across social-media platforms. This is the sad, secret knowledge passed by rumor and word of mouth in the absence of safe and legal abortion care.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Among the Dutch still lifes, there is a subgenre known as vanitas paintings, which serve to remind the viewer of her mortality through not-so-subtle emblems such as clock faces, burning candles and human skulls. Galton, making visible the private horror of terminating a pregnancy without the protection of the law, performs the gesture even more literally. Her still lifes force us to contemplate the possibility of the mother’s unnecessary death.
Dr. Savita Halappanavar’s needless death is where we will begin in considering Beth Galton’s images Aftermath : The Overturning of Roe V Wade.
Halappanavar (1981 – 2012) “was a dentist of Indian origin, living in Ireland, who died from sepsis after her request for an abortion was denied on legal grounds. In the wake of a nationwide outcry over her death, voters passed in a landslide the Thirty-Sixth Amendment of the Constitution, which repealed the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland and empowered the Oireachtas to legislate for abortion.” One might say that her gratuitously cruel death – which can be laid at the feet of the catholic church which for too long has denigrated justice in too many countries – galvanized the people of Ireland to a more humane and informed position.
If I may engage in a rude observation, it is notable when such a formerly staunch catholic country as Ireland can shed the barbarism of that cult to acknowledge the essential autonomous humanity of people. But perhaps the legacy of the Magdalene Laundries are clear in their minds….
Galton’s images are quiet : a superficial glance will not immediately reveal their truth, but these are as meticulously well executed as many of her more commercial works. But they are not initially recognizable for what they are, with their aesthetic acumen (or – perhaps more likely – as a man, I don’t recognize certain tools. Though I’m surely part of any intended audience, it is more so something I’m being taught rather than having a necessary yet unwanted familiarity with them….and that ignorance on my part is just a small piece of a leviathan of such willful ignorance of church and state in Galton’s country, and my own…).
In an article about this series here, notes are offered such as with Bodily Harm : “Bodily harm caused by wire hangers, knitting needles, douches and hard objects. Emblems from the nightmare past, in the spotlight of now.” Another – Back Alley Abortion – presents “objects traditionally used by medical professionals [that] are also used illegally to perform abortions. Also represented is the abortion pill, shipped to states where abortion is now illegal.”
Galtan is a citizen of the U.S., and this debate is raging there and – as happens with Canada – it’s spilling into our spaces, tainting any genuine informed debate with religious ignorance and outright lies and hypocrisy (I live in Niagara, where former ‘Bishop’ Wingle all but had a stroke when Dr. Henry Morgentaler was awarded the Order of Canada for his work in providing necessary health care. Wingle’s voracious hypocrisy only ceased when it was revealed that one of his ‘priests’ was a serial child molester, at which point he resigned, ran away and hid and the facts are still unclear on how much Wingle abetted or ignored. Do I truly need to ask why acolytes of this cult are being platformed regarding this issue, health care and so many others where their contribution is vile and ignorant?)
Galton’s works are subtle but have much to say : an award winning photographer who lives and works in New York City, Galton’s “images and short films tell stories – the story of memories, of what and how we eat together, a love of nature, and the pleasure of shared experiences.”
It’s also worth noting that the aesthetic discipline of Galton’s images – the beauty in horror, perhaps – is tempered by the facts of what she’s sharing.
Too often – which we’re seeing in Canada, right now – there’s intentional misrepresentation and outright lies around the issue (again, copying what happens south of us, where SCOTUS members lied outright about their intentions, and quote Medieval Witchfinders while bleating they are ‘moral’). Galton’s works remind us – those of us who never knew, choose not to know or hypocritically ignore – of facts : specifically that within the erroneously snivelling assertion of being ‘pro life’, that no such concern is shown – the opposite, in fact – for women.
More of this series can be seen here and Beth Galton’s site is here.
~ Bart GazzolaRead More
Ralph Ziman | The Ghosts ProjectMay 12, 2023
Ralph Ziman | The Ghosts Project
The total life of man is reflected in his art. And so when people come to us and say, “Why are you… you artists so political?” I don’t know what they are talking about. Because art is political. And further more I’d say this, that those who tell you “Do not put too much politics in your art,” are not being honest. If you look very carefully you will see that they are the same people who are quite happy with the situation as it is. And what they are saying is not don’t introduce politics. What they are saying is don’t upset the system. They are just as political as any of us. It’s only that they are on the other side. Now in my enthusiasm, art cannot be on the side of the oppressor.
(Chinua Achebe in conversation with James Baldwin, 1981)
The ghosts won’t starve, but we will perish.
Since approximately 2014, South African filmmaker and artist Ralph Ziman’s The Ghosts Project has been enacted in a number of nation states in Africa. In Ziman’s words: “Arms that are paid for and imported into Africa are being used by individuals not just for defense but often by corrupt, autocratic governments to oppress their own people. This body of work deals with the international arms trade and Africa, a trade that for the most part only goes in one direction — into Africa — and one that not only fuels, but also sustains conflict across the continent.”
One aspect of the project involved Ziman photographing “Zimbabwean street vendors wielding handmade replicas of AK-47s which are adorned in traditional Shona-style beading. The multimedia project aims to highlight the international arms trade and its devastating influence.
Another iteration of this performative hybrid of fine craft and photography – and also an intervention into public spaces – is as follows: “I had six Zimbabwean artists use traditional African beads and wire to manufacture several hundred replica bead/guns like AK-47s, as well as several replica bead/general purpose machine guns (GPMGs), along with the ammunition. In response to the guns sent into that culture, the mural represents an aesthetic, anti-lethal cultural response, a visual export out of Africa. And the bead/guns themselves, manufactured in Africa, are currently being shipped to the USA and Europe. This bead/arms project provided six months full-time work for half a dozen craftsman who got well deserved break from making wire animals for tourists.
The completed bead/guns were the subject of a photo-shoot in crime ridden downtown Johannesburg. The subjects were the artists who made the guns, several construction workers who happened to witness the shoot, and a member of the South African Police Services who just wanted his picture taken.” (from here)
Ralph Ziman was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and currently lives and works in Los Angeles, California : “His practice is motivated by a sense of social responsibility toward global politics. Using imagery that is at once vivid and dark, he comments on serious issues such as life under apartheid, the arms trade and trophy hunting. His work extends across a variety of media, including film, photography, public intervention, sculpture, and installation.”
More of Ralph Ziman’s work can be seen here.
~ Bart GazzolaRead More
Dorothea Lange | A family of drought refugees from Abilene, Texas, on the road in California | 1936May 4, 2023
Dorothea Lange (1895 – 1965) | A family of drought refugees from Abilene, Texas, on the road in California | 1936
“The depression was making people disappear.
They vanished from factories and warehouses and workshops, the number of toilers halving, then halving again, until finally all were gone, the doors closed and padlocked, the buildings like tombs. They vanished from the lunchtime spots where they used to congregate, the diners and deli counters where they would grab coffee on the way in or a slice of pie on the way out.
They disappeared from the streets.
They were whisked from the apartments whose rents they couldn’t meet and carted out of the homes whose mortgages they couldn’t keep pace with, lending once thriving neighborhoods a desolate air, broken windows on porches and trash strewn across overgrown yards. They disappeared from the buses and streetcars, choosing to wear out their shoe leather rather than drop another dime down the driver’s metal bucket. They disappeared from shops and markets, because if you yourself could spend a few hours to build it, sew it, repair it, reline it, reshod it, reclod it, or reinvent it for some other purpose, you sure as hell weren’t going to buy a new one.
They disappeared from bedrooms, seeking solace where they could: a speakeasy, or, once the mistake of Prohibition had been corrected, a reopened tavern, or another woman’s arms—someone who might not have known their name and certainly didn’t know their faults well enough to judge them, someone who needed a laugh as badly as they did.
They disappeared, but never before your eyes; they never had that magic. It was like a shadow when the sun has set; you don’t notice the shadow’s absence because you expect it. But the next morning the sun rises, and the shadow’s still gone.”
(Thomas Mullen, The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers)
I have a tendency in my research to fall down rabbit holes: this is often shaped by history (my interest – which has manifested on this site – in post Soviet artists, for example) and of late The Great Depression has been a point of interest. My enjoyment of horror intersects here, so I will confess that I came to the author that I quote liberally above (whose book follows two brothers whom are bank robbers during the Great Depression, harshly factual and researched, but they find they are resurrected each time they’re killed in one of their robberies) through Daniel Knauf’s Carnivàle series. But, like another writer has pointed out, improbability and violence overflow from ordinary life, and the Great Depression was a time more, perhaps, malleable than most, as many assumptions were fractured irreparably…
And the horrors experienced by many from the Crash of 1929 through the Depression were ‘unimaginable’ to many, until they became commonplace, and now, it seems, have been forgotten. This is similar to how we forget that Lange’s subjects are not just icons but actual people who lived, suffered and died.
To many, Lange’s work requires no introduction. Many of her photographs are so stitched into the fabric of a communal history that they act as signifiers for collective memories. Nonetheless: Dorothea Lange “was an American documentary photographer and photojournalist, best known for her Depression-era work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Lange’s photographs influenced the development of documentary photography and humanized the consequences of the Great Depression.” (from here)
I return to Mullen’s book that had flavours of horror, but not in the way I expected, as it was more historical than ‘supernatural’ horror:
“Ten feet behind them, standing at the base of an arc light and looking in the opposite direction, was a young, balding man who Weston supposed was the father. The man looked as if he were trying very hard to become invisible.
When you bump into an old acquaintance on the street, you ask him how he’s doing. He tells you a story and then you tell him your story, and both of you are trying to see where you fit within the other’s. Your story says: This is the way the world is, and I’m the center, over here. But if the other guy tells a different story, with the world like this, where the center’s actually over here, then you realize that you’re way off to the side.
This man did not need to be told he was off to the side. He clearly realized it.”
More of Lange’s work – both her iconic images of The Great Depression and her later work that was more local but considered the same issues of justice and equality – can be seen here.
~ Bart GazzolaRead More
Kristina Varaksina | Self portrait wrapped, 2020April 27, 2023
Kristina Varaksina | Self portrait wrapped, from the Self Reflection series, 2020
“Why do men feel threatened by women?” I asked a male friend of mine. (I love that wonderful rhetorical device, “a male friend of mine.” It’s often used by female journalists when they want to say something particularly bitchy but don’t want to be held responsible for it themselves. It also lets people know that you do have male friends, that you aren’t one of those fire-breathing mythical monsters, The Radical Feminists, who walk around with little pairs of scissors and kick men in the shins if they open doors for you. “A male friend of mine” also gives — let us admit it — a certain weight to the opinions expressed.)
So this male friend of mine, who does by the way exist, conveniently entered into the following dialogue. “I mean,” I said, “men are bigger, most of the time, they can run faster, strangle better, and they have on the average a lot more money and power.” “They’re afraid women will laugh at them,” he said. “Undercut their world view.”
Then I asked some women students in a quickie poetry seminar I was giving, “Why do women feel threatened by men?” “They’re afraid of being killed,” they said.
(Margaret Atwood, Second Words: Selected Critical Prose, 1982)
Kristina Varaksina received her Master’s in Photography from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco, in 2013. Born in Russia, Varaksina has resided in the USA since 2010 and currently divides her time between London and New York.
From here: “In her personal work, Varaksina explores the vulnerabilities, insecurities and self-search of a woman and an artist. Her work is a creative response to what’s going on in the world and her immediate environment. Through visual symbolism, carefully curated colour palettes and cinematic lighting she reflects the strongest emotions she and her subjects experience.” I would inject another line from Atwood here, in response: I’m working on my own life story. I don’t mean I’m putting it together; no, I’m taking it apart.
Varaksina gives voice to women from different ethnic, socio-economic, and cultural backgrounds, each doing their best to accept themselves as who they are and be proud of that. Varaksina sees her job as a photographer to make “ordinary” women more visible and therefore, more valuable.”
Varaksina has earned numerous awards for her work: her figures alternate between an unflinching gaze that challenges – perhaps unnerves – the viewer, and a stillness where our presence is neither requested or needed, intruding into the quiet being of her subjects. The Self Reflection series – which is ongoing – has been described as both ‘claustrophobic’ and a commentary on the history of portraiture in the Western canon. In this body of work, her stare is direct and unrelenting, as she not only turns her camera on herself as part of her work about women but turns her gaze upon us, too.
More of her work can be seen here. Varaksina’s IG is @kristinavaraksina
~ Bart GazzolaRead More
Robin Claire Fox | ReflectionsMarch 17, 2023
Robin Claire Fox | Reflections
Photography is inherently nostalgic. Every image taken is essentially the capturing of a moment from the past. That moment no longer exists, just the memory of it and an analogue print or a digital impression trapped on an electronic device. Many modern photographers harbour longings for the saturated or contrasty renderings of images made with processes and media (like Kodachrome) long out of use or no longer in production. Quite a few of them try to recreate the look and feel of these processes digitally, running their captures through filters and algorithms to bring back the visual past. While many are overdone (why keep it at 3 when you can dial it up to 10?), there are a few who have mastered the ability to make us believe that we are viewing an image taken decades ago. The evocation of this photographic past is (I believe) an effort to physically reconnect with it in a way that seems familiar, safe and warm… like sitting with your family watching slides projections of photos from a vacation taken years ago.
Ancaster, Ontario’s Robin Fox started taking photographs around the time of the birth of her most recent child as a conscious attempt to document her family’s childhoods for her future self to enjoy. She is a natural at capturing the uncertainties alongside the joys of growing up. A huge fan of Saul Leiter’s colour work, she has found a method of perfectly capturing the deep saturation and contrast Leiter exhibited in his work with Kodachrome and other slide films in the 1950’s. Her images seem imbued with palettes that exist only in the memory of childhood, where everything was so much bigger and the world was awash with primary colours.Read More
Dave Jordano | For Sale – America, Westside, Detroit, 2020, from his A Detroit Nocturne SeriesMarch 2, 2023
Dave Jordano | For Sale – America, Westside, Detroit, 2020, from his A Detroit Nocturne Series
In the West, the past is very close. In many places, it still believes it’s the present. (John Masters)
Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus | We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes. (City of Detroit’s motto)
The city makes you; in a million little ways it makes you, and you can’t unmake yourself from it. (Craig Davidson, Cataract City)
Detroit is nothing if not a physical site of contested narratives: having lived in Windsor – Detroit for a half dozen years, the mythology and the reality of that city was something I was exposed to as I was just beginning to mature as an artist and writer, and that city (whether through the Detroit Institute of Arts or the stereotypes of the rust belt wonderlands, the legacy of the riots and so much malfeasance on the part of supposed stakeholders that layer ruin upon ruin) played a large part in my development. Eight Mile Road is not just a song by Eminem, but a real place, with real people, to me.
It’s unsurprising to find out that Jordano is from Detroit: his portraits of the city suggest an affection and an affinity that is more personal, and that he connects with his subjects – whether people or places – in a manner that is more gentle, despite the harshness of the locus he captures, often being abandoned, or the stark industrial lights that help define his scenes. Or perhaps it’s more like one of my favourite books about place and memory, where Craig Davidson talks about how “the most awful thing about living as an adult on the same streets where you grew up? It’s so easy to remember how perfect it was supposed to be. Reminders were always smacking you in the face. Good things happened—sure, I knew that. They just happened in other places.”
Jordano’s own words about this series are as follows: “I chose to make these images at night not only to put more emphasis on their surroundings, but also because I wanted to introduce a moment of quiet and calm reflection. These nighttime landscapes seem unfamiliar and therefore provoke contemplation. Pieces of the past, present, and future are rendered here to be carefully considered. They are, after all, the physical evidence of the city where we once carved our collective ambitions and lived out our dreams.”
I must inject more words – to augment or challenge Jordano’s own – from Craig Davidson’s Cataract City here: “Most of us in Cataract City were hard because the place built you that way. It asked you to follow a particular line and if you didn’t, well, you went and lived someplace else. But if you stayed, you lived hard, and when you died you went into the ground that way: hard.”
Much more of Jordano’s work can be enjoyed at his site as well as on Instagram.
His extensive body of work – under the title of A Detroit Nocturne – can be viewed here.
~ Bart GazzolaRead More
The Great Texas Road Story | Stephen HoodFebruary 25, 2023
The Great Texas Road Story | Stephen Hood
I refuse to remember the dead.
And the dead are bored with the whole thing.
But you — you go ahead,
go on, go on back down
into the graveyard,
lie down where you think their faces are;
talk back to your old bad dreams.
(Anne Sexton, A Curse Against Elegies)
Well, I see your light’s still on, so I guess you must be out there. It’s okay if you don’t want to talk, you know. I don’t want to talk either, sometimes. I just like to stay silent. (Nastassja Kinski | Jane Henderson, from the film Paris, Texas)
The scenes that make up The Great Texas Road Story are cinematic. This is not just the nature of the vignettes captured, but that encountering this work on IG, it is like a continuing tale, with missives ‘sent’ to us, like an ongoing conversation or ‘postcards’ in a continuing narrative….
They have a quality of scouting locations for a film, but I will admit that I’m bringing in my subjective response, again.
Looking at some of these, I’m – obviously, due to the title of the endeavour – reminded of the fine cinematography of the film Paris, Texas, by Robby Müller. But I’m also reminded of the television series Carnivàle, where a travelling carnival trudges across the United States amidst the arid dustiness and despair of the Dust Bowl Depression. Like the moments photographer Stephen Hood presents in The Great Texas Road Story, the episodes in that series are named after the small towns they traverse – and it all starts in Marfa, Texas, in an odd synchronicity to Hood’s travels around Texas for this project. Looking at the site for The Great Texas Road Story, empty places like Spur and Snyder might be Marfa – or vice versa.
And in the end, these places – despite their evocative physical presence captured by Hood – are also characters in a story, repositories for memories and ideas both personal and more public.
“The Great Texas Road Story is an ongoing photography project devoted to the authentic small Texas town. I aim to continue to artistically capture the places in Texas I find compelling and to share that work here.
This photography project began organically in June 2020, when suddenly, I had to get out of town with my girlfriend, as we hadn’t left our tiny Austin apartment in months, and we needed to do something. Had to go. So we booked a campsite at the state park and headed out west to camp in the Davis Mountains near Marfa. A good ole Texas road trip (soothes the soul) was soon underway.
Our first stop was San Angelo, where we saw a porcupine. I brought an old camera and started photographing the landscape of Texas. I hadn’t picked up a camera in months, but from then on, we were on the road every other weekend documenting all of the small towns along the way.
I only moonlight as a Texas documentarian…It is in my spare time that I lovingly chronicle a disappearing Texas.” (Stephen Hood)
That’s an excerpt of Hood’s description of this work, and more of his images can be seen here: but you’ll be able to enjoy more of these moments if you give The Great Texas Road Story a follow on Instagram here.
~ Bart GazzolaRead More
Krydor, SK | Danny Singer, 2014February 17, 2023
Krydor, SK | Danny Singer, 2014
I would walk to the end of the street and over the prairie with the clickety grasshoppers bunging in arcs ahead of me, and I could hear the hum and twang of wind in the great prairie harp of telephone wires. Standing there with the total thrust of prairie sun on my vulnerable head, I guess I learned — at a very young age — that I was mortal.
W. O. Mitchell, Who Has Seen The Wind
I first encountered Danny Singer’s work in an exhibition in Saskatoon curated to mark the centennial of the province at the Mendel Art Gallery. Most of the artists included had celebratory discourses at play about the place in their work, but there were a few more factual as regards the history – and present – of that province. The Mendel Art Gallery (now the Remai Modern), under the curatorial eye of Dan Ring at that time, often eschewed banal propaganda for more real dialogue, as with the 2002 exhibition Edward Poitras: Qu’Appelle: Tales of Two Valleys. That exhibition’s title “refers to two valleys: a metaphor for the way First Nations and colonists, both past and present, constructed and experienced nature, spirituality, and culture through the physical reality of the Qu’Appelle.” (from the curatorial statement for the exhibition by Dan Ring).
This also acts as another ‘place’ to stand and consider Singer’s ‘sites’, too.
Singer’s works have an element of the performative: if you’ve ever been to the small towns – or similar ones – he’s documented in Saskatchewan and Alberta, you know that they are sparse, spaced and dying, if not already dusty corpses featured in a form of photographic nostalgia that has an element of necrophilia.
Other works in this series shift the camera so that the sky dominates the majority of the composition, so solid and blue it looks hammered into place, with clouds moving like the ocean, and the towns almost miniscule below all of this. Mitchell’s sentiment about the transience of humanity in the face of the eternity of nature is at play in those works, too.
“In Singer’s large-scale composite photographs, there is a real tension between the assumptions of photography as a medium – the fixed point of the camera, capturing a single moment in time – and the reality of the artist’s process, which takes hours and involves hundreds of vantage points. To the viewer, the photographs have a collapsing effect: the passage of time witnessed in a single glance.
The Vancouver-based artist has spent fifteen years photographing the main streets of small towns and hamlets across the prairies and plains of North America, drawing attention to the rural, agricultural communities on which Canada’s economy was built. In these large-scale works, strings of vernacular buildings are dwarfed by a dynamic sky, which fills the visual field. Out of the frame, one can imagine the horizontal repetition of this diminishing effect—farmland stretching hundreds of miles in either direction.” (from Galleries West)
More of Singer’s work can be seen here.
~ Bart GazzolaRead More
Mimi Plumb | The Golden City, 1984 – 2020February 2, 2023
Mimi Plumb | The Golden City, 1984 – 2020
So this is where the Renaissance has led to | And we will be the only ones to know
So take a drive and breathe the air of ashes | That is, if you need a place to go
If you have to beg or steal or borrow | Welcome to Los Angeles, City of Tomorrow
(Phil Ochs, The World Began In Eden And Ended In Los Angeles)
When I first encountered Plumb’s images, that song from the late Phil Ochs came to mind: it seems upbeat and pleasant but is, in fact, nuanced with a despair that is subtle but builds (and I will admit my interpretation may be coloured by his suicide. But the rendition of that song I am familiar with is a live version, and Ochs talks at the beginning of his fascination with Los Angeles “which intrigues me like a sensual morgue.” Plumb’s works have a certain sterility, to them, as well, that intersects with this consideration).
As with Plumb’s scenes, there’s more at play than the obvious. Considering that California exists in imaginations just as vividly – if not always accurately – as any seminal ‘place’ like ‘Siberia’, Plumb’s photographs invite us to construct narratives around them, that build, converge or perhaps complete what she intends, with her own personal stories….
I will admit that when looking at Mimi Plumb’s photography, that The Golden City often blended with another body of work of hers, titled The White Sky. I doubt that the artist would be offended by that, as the elements of memory, nostalgia and social realism suffuse her practice, and are themes that are present in her artwork still. Although her narrative is a personal one, it also has elements that are more universal, when considering larger tropes that her work touches upon.
“The Golden City [is] a series of images that frames subjects against the sprawling backdrop of San Francisco. Similar to Plumb’s other bodies of work, The Golden City is an ode to an earlier America—a rich and playful elaboration on the human condition, and its tendencies towards hedonism and spectacle. To say that this work largely references the exploitation of the natural world on account of humans would be reductive. While sculptural detritus and empty construction sites set the groundwork for this series, Plumb flips dramatic irony on its head by capturing subjects enthralled by events transpiring just beyond the frame. We are not in on the comings and goings within this world, but are sucked in nonetheless; left only with a sense of wonder at what could be bringing about such awe.” (from Document, with an engaging conversation with Plumb you can read as well)
Much more of Plumb’s work – from this series and a number of others – can be seen here. If you’d like to listen to her talk about her work, the Museum of Contemporary Photography has a video you can enjoy here.
Plumb published a book of selected images from this body of work with Stanley/Barker books in 2022.
~ Bart GazzolaRead More