Archives for posts with tag: contemporary photography

Freefall, c. 2017

In the spring of 2016 I was invited along on a civic business trip to Washington D.C. Finding myself deeply dismayed by the profoundly unsettling dialogue engulfing the presidential election, I decided to make the trip with the intention of beginning artwork for a possible book project.


Out of Balance, The Rayburn House Office Building, Washington D.C., c.2016

My curiosity as an American was coupled with a growing unease as a country built in the most beautiful language and lofty visions was immersed in denigrating the best president of my lifetime. While President Obama led the country out of seemingly insurmountable calamities with a dignity, intellectual vigor, commitment to diplomacy and respect for all the country’s people, the extremists raged. Leading a swath of America backward onto itself to wallow in its lowest traditions of prejudice, ignorance and obstruction, the Republican leadership barely masked a glaring desire for self-enrichment.


The President’s House, The White House China, c. 2016


Reflections with Washington, The White House, Washington D.C., c.2016

I had never been to Washington and given the effort the Obamas invested into increasing access to the government by its people, I couldn’t imagine a better time to visit. Through my invitation I had additional invaluable access: conferences and receptions at the House of Representatives and Senate office buildings; a private Congressional tour led by my Congressman’s staff; a tour of the White House as well as dinners in storied old buildings with people who hold high sway, elected and not, in my city. It was a privilege and I was hooked.

Contradictions ofJefferson

The Contradictions of Jefferson, The White House China, c. 2016

Revolutionary Wall Paper, c. 2016

My interest was to explore the vision, architecture, language and idolatry of significant American figures in our early years – the lofty goals of our founders versus the harsh contradictions of slavery, slaughter of indigenous people and profiteering land grabs. I thought a lot about the elegance of thought and language and debate, which furthered the country’s laws and protections for lands and citizenry. I thought a lot about the caustic knee-jerk, childish rhetoric and gang-bang mentality sweeping through contemporary America. I did not expect by year’s end to be dealing with fascism and a thuggish plutocracy, aided and abetted by foreign intervention and a complicit, regressive government.  What has ensued in this new regime is a disgrace on all counts.

What’s Become of the Grand Old Party, The White House China, President Wilson Dinner Plate, c. 2016

Bracing Ulysses, United States Capitol Rotunda, Washington, D.C., c.2016


The Kompromat, c. 2016

Concurrent with exploring and making images for The Republic, my family began to delve more deeply into our own history, uncovering a lineage going back to the Mayflower, Jamestown and beyond. It looks as though I may descend from John Rolfe, who set sail in 1609 for America on the Sea Venture, a ship and it’s wreckage near Bermuda that informed Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Having located desirable strains of tobacco while rebuilding a sailable ship, Rolfe is credited with bringing the first commercial tobacco cultivation to Virginia. He is also known primarily for marrying the daughter of the Chief of the Powhatan Indians. Her name was Matoaka, but we know her as Pocahontas.


The Sea Venture, c. 2017

Searching for Pocahontas, c.2016

As intriguing as all that is, it came with the whiplash realization that my forefathers were directly complicit in the birth of the plantation culture in the South.  I shouldn’t have been surprised, but when research led to several of my direct ancestors who owned slaves, I felt a shudder of responsibility I’d hoped to never feel. A lifetime of liberal politics and egalitarian beliefs did not prepare me to hit that wall.


A Revolt Suppressed, George Washington Dinner Plate, The White House China, c.2016

Web Federal-Self-Reflection

Federal Self Reflection, c. 2016

In exploring my full ancestral lineage, the trail has led not just to the aforementioned historical figures but also to officers in the Revolutionary War, to soldiers in both the Union Army and the Confederacy, to the struggling and the well-heeled, pioneers, farmers, and women who died of influenza and in child-birth. My family’s evolving story coupled with a fascination kindled from the trip to Washington quickly developed into an obsession with image making, learning and thinking about The Republic.


Abundance and Sacrifice, Number 2, c. 2016

Hallowed Ground: The Lincoln Memorial, c.2016


Jim Crow Segregation, Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills, California, c. 2016

How does one reconcile a heritage built both by Native Americans and the Colonists? Does one feel pride in the immense struggle it took to create such a complex and elegant governmental system while being mortified at the methodology employed for its success. Patriotism is a complex thing.


Sacrilege: Bill Cody’s Jacket, c. 2017


The Supreme Court, Washington, D.C. c.2016

Before the election of 2016, I thought I might be at this project for years given the abundance of information I struggled to digest. At the time, I thought the election would go differently and I could focus my work on the founding first few hundred years.  I thought I’d be able to stop short of the now, as a full United States history would be an unrealistic undertaking.  But ignoring the now and all that went before it would be to turn a blind eye on all the good we’ve done and just as significantly, all the bad.

from the series The Republic

Liberty, c. 2017


The Greatest Generation: Franklin D. Roosevelt, c. 2017

I realized early on that I needed to employ a variety of working methods to better serve the vast array of subject matter, even if those methods might typically be at odds with one another. Unlike a more common single narrative, The Republic is a massive story requiring a broad range of interpretations.  Some work is environmental, some simple landscapes, environments and still life photographs.  Other images are conceptual constructions.  I began to make props so that I could photograph the objects and ideas that I wanted to see and convey. Those ideas punctuate a timeline threaded by more typical images that serve at least partly as establishing shots.

Nixon & Vietnam

Nixon’s War, c. 2017


Impasse at the House, Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C., c. 2016


Abu Graib, President G.W. Bush Dinner Plate, The White House China, c.2016

The Republic is an ongoing project, as much activism and self-education as art and personal historical exploration.  As such, some images stand alone more profoundly than others and there are many gaps that I intend to fill over time.  As an editor, the content is overwhelming. As a maker, I find the discovery of both information and ways of translating that information creatively, to be immensely challenging and ever intriguing.


The White House Portico, c.2016

My country straddles a morality stuck between what many of us thought was a progressive future and the strong and persistent gravitational pull of an extremist past, intent on continuing to rear its ugly head. In creating works for The Republic I wrestle with all of it – a baptism by fire. We can’t get over it. We must go through it.



All rights reserved, c. Kathleen Clark, 2016-2017


Spot Photo Works, the new Los Angeles based, contemporary photography gallery started by myself and Russell Adams, will be occupying most of the corners and curves of my mind in its first year. I’ll still be doing some freelance editing and mentoring, but for the most part my writing is going the way of the gallery and you can find me holding forth to that end on the Spot Photo Works Facebook page and on Spot’s blog.

Chris Anthony's series "Seas Without A Shore" opens November 15th.  Pictured:  Ladybird No. 2 ©2012 Chris Anthony

Ladybird No. 2 ©2012 Chris Anthony from his upcoming exhibition, “Seas Without A Shore.”


Spot’s first year of artists include: Dennis DeHart, Victory Tischler-Blue, Chris Anthony, Gregg Segal, H. Lee, Robert Harding Pittman, J.K. Lavin and Todd Weaver. We’re excited and we hope you visit.

I’m wrapping up jurying for Critical Mass and I’ll be reviewing portfolios at Photo Lucida in Portland in the Spring. Perhaps I’ll see some of you there. I’m also judging a yet to be announced competition for the Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins, Colorado. I may also get inspired to write here on occasion and if time allows perhaps I’ll be able to pull on the threads of my own art making as well.  If so, I’ll keep you posted if anything juicy comes of it.

In the meantime find me at or at Spot’s Facebook page. Be well. Be in touch. Be inspired.

Six or seven years ago I sat at my first portfolio review table opposite a budding hobby photographer with a shoe box full of snap shots of lovely scenes that caught her fancy. I gave her as much consideration and thought in helping advance her work as I did in my office the day before meeting with a well-known editorial photographer or I do today sitting across the table from an artist with a highly sophisticated presentation. At whatever level a photographer is working, benefits can be had from opening up and allowing another pair of eyes to share in an artist’s work process. I learned this in art school and I believe in it today.

Books by a few of the photographers with whom I was pleased to meet at a variety of review events: Norihisa Hosaka, Cynthia Greig, Jesse Burke and Photographer Hal.

After participating as a photography reviewer in a number of festival and reviewing events, I am pleased to participate in, a sophisticated new reviewing opportunity for photographers working at all levels all over the world. The experience for photographers in participating in live reviews such as Center Santa Fe, Fotofest, Photo Lucida or Paris Photo is a unique and special one for many reasons, not least of which is the sense of camaraderie one feels on both sides of the table. The fact that I often refer to the experience as being akin to summer camp for adults, in no way diminishes its value. It can be extremely motivating to spend a few days in deep immersion with other people facing the same challenges as one’s self. A glass of wine over dinner and engaged conversion with a growing pool of new friends and colleagues is irreplaceable. That said, its not always possible, physically or financially to trek to that really great live review. This is why is such a special thing.

I often wince at the number of new portfolio reviews that seem to sprout like weeds. In fact I just declined an offer to organize yet another one.  I fear for the photographer who like everyone else in the world, must face financial reality that one can’t really afford attending every event, even though there seems to be mounting pressure to do just that.  The sense of missing that one chance to meet with someone who might open just the right door is extremely compelling.  These things do happen – sometimes.  Several handfuls of the work I have loved most at reviewing events are beginning to get their day in the world and that’s a really great thing.

Even so, I feel proud to participate in Eyeist, because it offers a very good option to being there.  Especially for those who need to target their time or target their money, Eyeist is terrific and if I work up my nerve, I might even send my personal work over to a colleague for their take on things.

Currently 48 reviewers are on board with a wide range of expertise from major magazine photo editors to accomplished advertising art buyers to agents, curators as well as a handful of photographers in a variety of genres.  There are people who may be able to offer direct exhibition or publication opportunities and there are people like me, who come from places of deep experience, that may be able to help photographers progress enough to open doors to new opportunities.

After a year of challenging work and dedication by Eyeist founders Allegra Wilde, Micah and Jesse Diamond and their techno-wiz developer Doug Dawirs, they have created a unique and accessible system for assisting photographers that works exceptionally well.  I’m not going to spell out the details as their website does that, but I will say that we reviewers all participated in a number of training sessions and beta tests to get the system to function with great ease.  A benefit to the reviewing process that I hadn’t anticipated was that I was able to give a far more in-depth review than I am able in live review situations due to the potential to have a little bit of advance time with the photographer’s work.  I could look, think, make notes, formulate suggestions in a quiet, non-distracting space and provide a valuable service for my test subjects.  In addition the subject’s ability to choose a specific reviewer or trust Eyeist to do so, allows an ability to target to a photographer’s unique needs.

I don’t believe that Eyeist can or should replace the live, in-the-same-room experience provided by the more reputable reviewing events, but I think it can be a terrific addition to one’s toolbox.  I continue to meet with local photographers privately and that’s a completely ideal work process and setting, but Eyeist offers an opportunity to reach out, for all of us.
Press Release:

“Longing” from the series “Natural Selection” by Zelda Zinn (c)2010

Art dealing in mass and minimalism isn’t always a natural fit with photography. Generally I find sculpture to be more successful at conveying volume. Zelda Zinn’s photographs, to the contrary, have strong sense of sculptural shape along with a kind of appealing delicacy.

“Escape” from the series “Natural Selection” by Zelda Zinn (c)2011

When she laid them out on my review table at FotoFest, I thought first of a fluid sort of Op Art and of Bridget Riley, though I’d never been a huge fan of the movement aside from its latter influence in adorning a pair of Vans or a Punk club wall. Zinn’s images on the other hand were light, lilting things, not the optical wallop and graphic hydraulics of Op. Her series “Natural Selection” initially led me to thinking they weren’t photographs at all, but drawings – incredibly airy drawings. Evoking cloud imagery, Zelda Zinn uses an array of simple diaphanous materials like the “Plain Jane” of fabrics, cheesecloth as her muse. Normally a utilitarian cooking tool used to squeeze the water out of spinach or mozzarella, in Zinn’s hand the cloth becomes an eloquent conveyor of light, and it’s fine grid detail has a minute seductive, mathematical quality (hence the Op references).

Zinn is featured along with artist Frida Kao at Art-Merge at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood through September 29. I was glad to see the work in advance without a crowd and was greeted (a rare thing in a gallery) by the talented and engaging gallerist Jae Yang. Yang has assembled the equivalent of two solo shows with Kao’s “Lines of Desire” anchoring the large front room in a mix of grand scale sculptural work and works on paper. Kao’s installation reflects a fascination with the maps and grids of the city of Los Angeles.   The work is immensely compatible with that of Zelda Zinn who presents two bodies of work in the smaller, but not too small, Closet Galleries.

Untitled from the series “Irresistible Air” by Zelda Zinn (c)2012

Zinn presents two additional series: “Irresistible Air” and “Illuminated Letters.” In “Irresistible Air” the photographer fashions a series of air packets, like those from shipping crates into magical suspended bubbles of silvery light. She writes “There is something irresistible about air pockets. They beg to be touched, played with, and sometimes popped. I toyed with them, twisting and fashioning them into a variety of shapes, looking for something that felt right. The funny thing about these pillows was how they were transformed when seen through the camera.” I was struck by the way the photographs read as hard, dark, dense mass when seen from five or so feet and upon closer inspection at roughly one foot, “Irresistible Air” becomes just that – light and translucent.

Untitled from the series “Irresistible Air” by Zelda Zinn (c)2012

In “Illuminated Letters” we get a chance to see Zinn’s own hand beyond the camera and her constructions. Her pencil drawings on Duralene explore a fascination with camouflage.

1.27.07 from the Illuminated Letters Series by Zelda Zinn (c)2007, pencil on Duralene

“Once I began to look for disruptive pattern, I saw it everywhere, even the insides of envelopes which brought me my bills. At first, I carefully unfolded the paper, trying to preserve and faithfully reproduce what was there. Later, I ripped open the envelopes, enjoying the jagged edges and new shapes created by chance. Finally, I used the shapes of the envelopes and the patterns within as a jumping off point, letting them guide me ‘off the grid.’ The resultant images were unplanned and largely unconscious reactions to what the page presented.”

“Timekeeper” from the series “Natural Selection” by Zelda Zinn (c)2011

Opportunities to see Zelda Zinn’s work abound this month.  Her exhibition will run through September 29th at Art – Merge at the Pacific Design Center, 8687 Melrose Avenue, Suite B256 (Blue Building | 2nd Floor) West Hollywood, CA 90069 Monday – Friday: 11:00am – 5:00pm. Saturday and Sunday by appointment only.

She also has work in the Crossroads Faculty Show, where she has been a faculty member since 1990 and art department Chair since 1995. Sam Francis Gallery, Crossroads School, Santa Monica, through October 12, 2012, 10 am to 4 pm.

At LA Center for Digital Art, Zinn’s work is included in the Electron Salon through October 5, 2012 at 102 West 5th Street, Los Angeles, 90013.

Lastly, at Center for Fine Art Photography in Ft. Collins, Colorado, Zelda Zinn was selected for inclusion in the juried group exhibition, Center Forward, showing through October 20th, 2012 at 400 North College Avenue.

I started writing this blog a little over a year ago and I enjoy the process. Even so, as June rolls in I find myself with a good case of summer fever. I’m not much interested in writing unless I have something to say and my free time lately finds me with loads of seasonal distractions and domestic projects. I polished a few of the old cameras (above) and placed them in the vintage Afga showcase given to me by my benevolent brother. I’ve landscaped a shady patio under the new pepper tree and ventured out for vast quantities of summer fruit to preserve.  In fact, every time I think about writing a new post, images of fresh tomato salads, fireworks on the beach and reading good novels infiltrate my thinking.

Let the jam making begin.

If you are kind enough to read my musings, I just wanted to say that I’ll be taking a little break to recharge.  I’m working on a new body of photographs, my first real images in some time and they are keeping my mind spinning as they evolve. I’ll also be growing things, traveling, eating nectarines, swimming, and spending time with friends and family. Some of those things will even happen at the same time. Sounds pretty good.  I hope you do the same. I’ll find something worth writing about in the not-too-distant future, but at the moment, I haven’t the foggiest idea what that might be. Until then, I wish you all a wonderful lazy June.

Happy Summer and thanks for reading.

Fotofest portfolio reviews come to an end with a blow-out barbecue dance at Houston's Lawndale Art Center with Tex/Mex and Zydeco music by The Stringbenders.

Fotofest Biennial 2012 is what all bienniales are supposed to be, a vast banquet of international exhibitions, lectures, book signings and in this case, reviews of photography portfolios.  I had the good fortune to attend the Houston, Texas-based event as a Portfolio Reviewer in the International Meeting Place (which, like most Portfolio Reviews, is held in a large hotel conference room).   Along with forty-eight fellow curators, editors, gallerists, collectors, publishers, festival and museum directors from fourteen countries, I reviewed in the last of four sessions of the month-long festival.  Each reviewer is appointed fourteen different photographers to meet each of the four days in our session, but on multiple occasions we’re all called upon to take a look at work by photographers who didn’t draw our names in their official lists.  I’ve reviewed in the past for Center Santa Fe, Palm Springs Photo Festival, and the Lucie Foundation’s Month of Photography L.A., but each for only a day or two at a time.  By the end of the trip, I sat with 62 different photographers from all over the world and looked as closely at their work as the twenty-minute sessions allowed.  The goal being to find ways in which to offer support, both directly and indirectly.

The Open Portfolio night had a busy turnout from Houston's dedicated art and photography audience, in spite of a downtown that goes quiet at day's end.

Photographers present their work at many levels.  Some are college art and photography teachers.  Many have extensive exhibition histories. Plenty are only a few years into the process.  Some are in their early twenties and some are in their seventies.  All the work I saw was directed toward fine art with very few crossovers into editorial.   Photographers pay handsomely to participate and it is costly for reviewers as well, so a lot of effort is spent toward making the most of the opportunity.  I do my best to find ways to pull the rabbit out of the hat with each review, attempting to access the work, the artist and every scrap of useful information at my disposal that might assist them in their journey. Occasionally, I come up dry, but I try to give each the focus they deserve.  By the end of each day, and especially at the end of four days, everyone is considerably talked out.  And yet, the talking continues.  Everyone hits verbal and creative walls, but fortified by caffeine and cookies, the process rolls along until everyone is seriously spent and then only barbecue and beer can offer relief.

I took a few snapshots along the way:

Tamara Staples, Leah Sobsey, Cynthia Greig, Andrew Uchin and Sharon Harper, fortified. Sobsey teaches at the University of North Carolina and Harper is an Associate Professor at Harvard. Greig is based in Detroit and along with Uchin, are represented in Los Angeles at DNJ Gallery. New York's Tamara Staples is known for her book entitled "The Fairest Fowl."

Beth Lilly of Atlanta, describes her fascinating narrative-building project, "the Oracle@wifi," to Alexa Becker, Acquisitions Editor at Kehrer Verlag based in Heidleberg, Germany.

The duo of Francoise and Daniel Cartier present their elegant bodies of work which managed to be both historic and exceedingly contemporary.

Blake Gordon with his "Nightwalks" panorama landscapes taken while walking across Austin, Texas. Blake was once good enough to drive his truck and a vintage travel trailer (resembling a canned ham) all the way to Los Angeles. Here he picked up the work from his friend Brent Humphreys' exhibition "Le Tour" at my former gallery and drove it all the way back to Texas.

Jim Leisy of Oregon presents his still-life body of work entitled "Amateur Physics," executed in a combination of digital and Van Dyke Brown printing.

Photographer Ilan Weiss and Stephan De Broyer, Publisher of View Magazine of Brussels.

The vast sky walk in Houston's One Allen Center links one exhibition space to another.

Damion Berger's grand installation of "Black Powder" is included in "Discoveries of the Meeting Place," a large group exhibition of the work of prior participants of the reviews.

"Le Fiac II, Jardin des Tuilleries," 2009, by Damion Berger (74.8 x 55.9, Gelatin Silver).

Erika Diettes installation of "Rio Abajo" explores the tragedy of Colombia's disappeared.

From Erika Diettes' "Rio Abajo."

Houston's historic preservation methods make for strange juxtapositions.

Aside from the oil industry's downtown skyscrapers and a nearby shooting range, a televised scene from an old Conway Twitty performance was a rare sign of southern stereotype.

Ricardo Veira, Director of Pennsylvania's Lehigh University Art Galleries, Ute Noll Director of On Photography & Illustration, Uno Art Space, Stuttgart, and New York/Tokyo photographer Yoko Naito board the tour bus following a stop at Priya Kambli and Julie Blackmon's exhibitions at Houston Center for Photography or HCP .

Houston based photographer Emily Peacock's show at Lawndale Art Center.

Emily Peacock's "You, Me & Diane," is based on the seminal book "Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph." Peacock casts herself in recreating likenesses of the now famous Arbus photographs, including the 1967 "Identical twins, Roselle, N.J."

Emily Peacock as the comic relief version of Arbus' 1966 photograph, "A young man with curlers at home on West 29th Street, N.Y.C."

After art there's BBQ or as they say in the South - meat and three.

Ferit Kuyas of Switzerland via Turkey (right) and a smoking buddy. Kuyas' landscape work is represented in Los Angeles at Stephen Cohen Gallery.

Maggie Blanchard, Director of Twin Palms Publishers, Santa Fe, with Tamara Staples.

Photographer Wendy Sacks (center) getting jiggy. To her left is Diane Evans, Gallery Manager at Vancouver, BC's Presentation House Gallery and Fernando Brito (blue shirt), whose journalistic portraits of drug cartel murder victims delivered a powerful punch.

Allessandra Capodacqua (left), VP of Fondazione Studio Marangoni, Firenze, Italy

Daniel Cartier and Uta Noll with Monika Merva(center). The New York based Merva showed her "City of Children" in the "Discoveries of the Meeting Place" exhibition.

Sometimes a photo festival looks like a barn dance. Krzysztoft Candrowicz, center in plaid, Founding Director, Lodz Art Center, International Festival of Photography, Poland.

Photographer and filmmaker Sarah Martin (left) presented innovative work and a sense of humor in her series on Christian online dating. Leah Sobsey recently finished a residency at the Grand Canyon documenting the Park's extensive botanical collection. Both teach in the Photography Department at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.

Nancy Barr, Associate Curator at Detroit Institute of the Arts, documents her BBQ brisket platter while architectural landscape photographer Philip Jones of Boston sits just beyond.

Ricardo Viera leads Fotofest volunteers and staff member Sarah Craig in one last line dance.

For more information on the festival which continues with exhibitions through April 29, see

The Valley, (c) Kelli Connell

Kelli Connell’s series “Double Life” seemed special enough when I first saw it online, but I had the sense that comes with website viewing that I’d already seen the pictures.  So why bother attending the physical exhibition?   Giving it the benefit of the doubt, I dropped by Kopeikin Gallery on a weekday.

I wondered whether the photographs might gain something by hanging on the wall?  I should say that this question wasn’t really aimed at Kelli Connell’s work specifically, but really at all photographic work of late. I’d been feeling a creeping sense of image burnout on and off for the last few years.  Professional photo editors see hundreds if not thousands of photographs each week.   In fine art, it’s not much different. The bounty of work available to be seen online along with the sheer numbers of active photographers can sometimes have a numbing effect on the viewer. Keeping abreast of beloved work prior to living life on a desktop was manageable enough with part of my brain devoted to Duane Michaels and Judy Dater, and part of it to Robert Mapplethorpe, Irving Penn and Mary Ellen Mark.  There were many others of course, but the point being, it wasn’t all that crowded a field.

Websites for editorial and advertising photographers offer an instant reference for those in a position to assign or buy photography.  It’s a good thing.  For fine art photography, the net seems to me to walk the fine line of being friend and foe.  While it expands opportunities for awareness and outreach, it also risks a sense of  “been there, done that”.  It’s always been a good idea to put a strong image on an invitation, make a couple of images available to the press and hold tight to the rest of the work to give people something fresh to see at exhibition. Seeing work on the wall is seduction after all.  It’s difficult to feel the pull of the words “buy me” when it comes to art that you only experience in the condensed format of a computer screen.  When we have the opportunity to see every image in a series prior to the show, it diminishes one’s desire to change out of our sweatpants and drive across town for an opening.  We lose that wonderful sense of discovery.

Ponder, (c) Kelli Connell

In spite of all that, it was with great pleasure that I found myself in a room full of Connell’s images.    The dozen or so prints were all pictures I had seen before, yet somehow they moved me in a way I hadn’t experienced in prior small version looks.  Seeing a beautifully crafted photograph, equally well framed is a nicer experience than seeing it with menu bars and a multitude of files on my desktop.  I must remember this.

Immediately I was reminded of another simple fact.  Seeing art in an empty room without the opening crowd can be a wonderful thing.  I was alone here except for Mr. Kopeikin and he was occupied on the phone. I could actually consider the images in peace.

Trying to put two and two together is a pleasure and sometimes a challenge in art and while I like to eventually read the artist’s statement, I always feel like I’ve cheated and looked at the answers before reading the questions if I read it first.  In this case I was glad that I hadn’t read Connell’s statement or any interviews before seeing the work.

Lucky Lou's, (c) Kelli Connell

There have been volumes of compelling work made based on sexual identity: photographs, films, videos and mixed media work in the last twenty odd years including many works by my former school mates and friends from Cal Arts, UC Irvine and UCLA, such as John Di StefanoTammy Rae Carland, Catherine Opie, Millie Wilson, Keith Mayerson, and even by myself.   I pretty much walked away from the topic years ago feeling it had run its course for me at the time.

Young photographers like Kelli Connell find their own routes of exploration, however, and her subjects are depicted with a gentle subtlety.  Each nuanced frame makes a look at a relationship in an everyday life.  The normalcy of the images is their beauty.  Simple arrangements of two women in very utilitarian locations – a couple, but they are an identical duo.  Are they lovers?  Are they identical twins? They appear to be quietly engaged in the details of their lives, two sides of one coin. Bits of gendered behaviors show, but quietly.  I think I tired of the heavy-handedness of the genre in the past, but Connell’s compositions are elegantly balanced and her subjects low-key.  They’re a relief from so much posing in the world.  These are posed, but they just don’t feel like it.  They’re not dogmatic. Her technical skill is flawless and while I’m not generally one to give away the ending before you’ve had a chance to see the film, much has already been written about her casting a friend to play both roles in the relationship.  Connell masters the images together in an ultimate Photoshop embrace.

Convertible Kiss, (c) Kelli Connell

I tried to fathom how it was possible to weave the two versions of her model so seamlessly given the connectedness of the couple.  It only made sense once I read that Kelli Connell herself serves as a stand in or placeholder for one side of the two characters.  This way an embrace feels like an embrace.  More important than Photoshop technique is the way in which Connell filling this role affects the images.  She is in the images and she’s not.  She’s there in the ether.  Her presence appears to make up for her absence in that she occupies the heart and soul of the work, including the minor details: a thumb hooked into a blue jean pocket, a hand cups an ear and the nape of a neck.  “What is really recorded on the film is our interaction together.”

This is solidly beautiful work.  It’s both portraiture and performance. Poetic and banal in the way that real life can be.

Carnival, (c) Kelli Connell

Many years ago I was lucky enough to hear a lecture by the late film historian Vito Russo in which he spoke of wanting to see the day in which gay films didn’t have to constantly deal with coming out, or with characters being killed off for that matter.  He longed for the day when the fact of a character’s queerness wasn’t even mentioned.  They merely existed within the context of a story.  Just like straight characters existed.  They did other things, lived their lives, had relationships, had jobs, were heroes or just regular people.

Kelli Connell’s images do just that.  They live their filmic lives.

Brickhaus Cafe, (c) Kelli Connell

Connell has fielded the question of whether the series has run its course since she began it in 2002.  Artists periodically ask themselves what’s next when consumed by a long body of work.   It is a question only time and the photographer herself will discover.  While I would be fascinated to see what an entirely new body of work might be, it is equally compelling to consider the idea of continuing along this path, allowing her subjects to continue to play out their relationship as we continue to follow along. Rarely in photography do we have the opportunity to see characters develop, change, age and transition in their fictional lives over a long period of time.  When it happens, it’s a rare and special thing.

Kelli Connell’s “Double Life” shows at Kopeikin Gallery, 2766 Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles through April 14, 2012 with J Bennett Fitts “8 Dead Palm Trees.”

She also has work in “Contemporary Queer Photography” at Photo Center NW in Seattle, April 6th through May 12th with a lecture April 13th at 6:30 pm.

After watching the Oscars this week, I found myself thinking of sharing my experience of attending the Grammy Awards.  I am not a music mogul. I grew out of my rock and roll dreams long ago. Attending a major award show is not something I ever expected to log into my date book – certainly not something I sought out.  Nonetheless, it was my good fortune to be a “plus 1” for the second time at the Grammy Awards.  As a cultural observer, I approached the Grammys with the caution of an interloper and a gleeful sponge for an eye.  I expect these things to be odd and they generally come through.

The Grammys, like the Academy Awards are a spectacular event – as in spectacle.  In watching both we experience love as well as loathing. There was more than one moving musical moment at the Grammys, along with the insufferably tedious, but here I choose to focus on what I saw more than on what I heard.

On television the Grammys look much like other sparkly shows, but live, the visuals make a phenomenal statement – all flashing, pulsing, kinetic mania.  The sophistication of the production, projections, audio capability and timing is really quite impressive, like a fully lit birthday cake or Fourth of July sparklers on crack.

The pre-telecast ceremony is held in the cavernous LA Convention Center.   At one in the afternoon everyone was dressed in evening attire. A large number of men and women looked wonderful and elegant and some looked so in less than conventional ways. Yet there were plenty who looked dowdy while wrapped too tightly in brightly colored satins and ill-fitting suits – trying a little too hard.  Then again, everyone seemed drug down by the Convention Center lobby.  While modern and spacious, it suffered from a kind of generic, fluorescent, corporate lack of splendor, which made everyone’s attempts at glamour seem slightly tired and in some cases, desperate.

I half expected to see large displays of hot tubs or speedboats or solar arrays – more often the featured act within the walls of this building. Even so, the lobby is the first and best spot to view the extensive array of fashion statements. While I am no budding musical genius, I am no doyen of fashion either.  I’ve directed fashion photo shoots, slogged my way through the awkward task of casting models and grew up with a father whose profession in the clothing business brought Vogue into my reach at an early age, when Peggy Moffitt and Veruschka filled its pages.  I’m not completely in the dark, but my interest in making a fashion statement at the Grammys reflects my somewhat lazy and indifferent approach.  I want to look good, but I just don’t want to put much effort into the task.

Last year I’d imagined the event to be so far beyond my personal glam-ability that I was in a cold sweat about it. This year I knew better.  I knew I wouldn’t be sharing cocktails with Paul McCartney or Diana Krall.  With that knowledge came a certain amount of relief and I managed to cherry-pick an elegant costume from the hinterlands of my closet.   I should say I culled together an outfit both fashionable AND comfortable, because comfort is important here.

The long walk through security in and out of the pre-telecast ceremony.

This woman's identical twin was identically clad, walking in step behind her.

The Grammys are spread out between two enormous buildings of stadium size and their adjacent parking lots. There is much walking to do. It’s not a scene of exiting your limo curbside and making a short stilettoed entrance with cameras flashing.  That likely happens for the stars, in a separate entrance, but the bulk of Grammy attendees have to hoof it.  We don’t even get to see that entrance. Yet even facing an event that starts in the early afternoon and goes into the wee hours, most women decided to pay the price of fashion conformity in the form of often impossible shoes. Glittery gowns and eight-inch heels abound and they screamed simultaneously for attention.

Giant colorful suits on giant colorful men and hair of all heights and lengths were scattered throughout the entry hall, yet the predominant color as one would expect, was black.  It’s ironic, but hair in this room had more volume than the music.  It’s the real and the unreal clustering around multiple hors d’oeurvre tables and cocktail bars.  The big name faces did not walk among us, not even here.  Again I realized I would not be reaching for Brie and spring rolls along with Norah Jones  or even with Kurt Elling or Levon Helm.

Inside the immense expanse of the flat-carpeted floor of the convention hall, thousands of chairs are placed in neat rows facing a stage built and lit for the awards.  As a lover of theaters, I was at first mildly shocked that such a big production happened without a real proscenium stage or raked seating.  Nonetheless, I quickly learned to appreciate the pleasure of open seating. This is an egalitarian room. One can sit wherever there is an available seat.  The trick is to get close enough to see people on stage, but not so close that a great opportunity for people watching would be missed.

Comedian Kathy Griffin, who hosted the pre-telecast last year, refers to the awards as the Schmammys.  It’s the stepchild of the main show, but also a room full of immense talent, even if that talent isn’t a large-scale headliner. You’re more likely to see T Bone Burnett than Jennifer Hudson.

Meanwhile, a rather robustly built woman walked slowly and deliberately across the mid-audience aisle in front of us – her walk timed and intended for maximum viewing and distraction.  I have no idea who she was, but she was a poser extraordinaire – a voyeur’s dream.  Super Freak, she’s super freaky!  I fumbled for my camera.  Hot pink Lycra short shorts and plunging bra strained dramatically against her brown skin and all were made the merrier by color coordinated fuzzy boot slash leggings that look like a 99 Cent store Day-Glo bathmat. One man could not resist and even while an award was being given on stage, he dropped to his knees to take her photograph.  Moments later her “manager” appeared and business cards were exchanged.  I would love to have seen what was written on that card.

Four skinny young guys in spin-offs of Beatles jackets may have been nominees or they might have been there to see their dad win a techy award.  I noticed a woman stepping into the aisle to retrieve her fallen program and within minutes that same woman, Judith Sherman, was up on stage accepting the classical producer of the year award. Back on stage Chick Corea was giving out awards and later won a couple. Esperanza Spaulding announced winners and looked as though she missed having her bass to hold onto.  Skrillex’s acceptance speech lasted too long.  I imagined a long vaudevillian hook reaching out and pulling him offstage.

Awards were given in Christian music.  I fidgeted and muttered to myself.  I have no problem when an award is given in Gospel music. There is a long-standing tradition in Gospel after all.  But these new Christian categories made me squirm.   I struggled to refrain from having an outburst.  An opera singer from Kansas took center stage.   Thankfully, saved from the saccharin “thank the Lord” acceptance speeches, all eyes and ears found rapture in Joyce DiDonato’s undeniably phenomenal solo.  The entire room erupted in a standing ovation – people from all genres – Americana, Rap, Jazz, Classical, and Rock rose to their feet in appreciation of this delightful voice – her instrument.  Minutes later she won a Grammy for best Classical Vocal solo and in her speech, passionately took up the important cause of defending arts education in America.   “There’s a war on in our country against the arts right now…we need more musicians in our lives.” Unknown to most when she first entered the room; she quickly became everyone’s darling.

A bicycle policeman pitches in to take a snapshot in front of Staples Center.

Several hours later we made our way to the Staples Center next door. This is the house the Lakers built.  The circular lobby surrounding the arena is lined with super graphics of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.    It’s a sports facility first and foremost and it’s lined with fast-food concessions.  This is where any preconceived notions of glamour fell apart.  As the smell of burgers and fries filled the air, women in Versace and men in Tom Ford huddled at stand-up bars wolfing nachos and burritos.  Maybe because I attend an occasional basketball game, I was overly aware, but the effect was unseemly.   Staples is first-rate for sports, but for a dress-up event, the lobby at least, is like Fred Astaire dancing in a tavern instead of a ballroom.  It’s a classic example of Hollywood smoke and mirrors, glitzy in the television camera lens and not so much outside of it.

Immortalized in cell photos in front of Magic Johnson's statue.

With abundant extremities of people watching all around, we stalled as long as possible in the lobby.  With the most elaborate outfits, I forgot photographs completely and found myself dumbly staring in awe.  Once seated by 4pm we were on lockdown.

At the Academy Awards, fashion reflects the classic trends in gowns and tuxedos, with only the occasional renegade bold deviation.  The music industry makes its living though, not only in song, but also in risk-taking wardrobes.  The lavish gold lame suit made by Nudie for Elvis Presley pushed some early boundaries.  Madonna’s rocket-cone bra by Gaultier or her post-punk ragamuffin re-embracing of the fish net stockings shook things up as well.  Lady Gaga proved to be a happy source of amusement throughout the evening as she could be seen skulking through the main floor audience with a huge golden scepter in hand, like a Goth Bo Peep.  Even better, when the giant video screens on either side of the stage zoomed in on her close-up, it was apparent her designer had taken Madonna’s fish nets (essentially) and strung them across Gaga’s face.  Talk about a tribute.  She didn’t perform this year.  She didn’t beam down in a glowing egg.  She didn’t even win anything.  But each time she appeared, she induced a gleeful laugh and I was glad for her peculiarity.

Pound for pound the Grammys offer a lot of entertainment and not only in terms of star power.  Thankfully, the interior of Staples Center has miraculously good acoustics, owing I’m sure to the sophisticated production team.  With two side-by-side stages, one was live while the other was built simultaneously.  Since Chris Brown’s isn’t much of a vocalist,  I largely watched the animation projections on the cubes upon which he danced and thought about him beating his former girlfriend.   Digital projection has so greatly expanded what’s possible on a theatrical stage it can be quite remarkable, but it wasn’t so captivating that everyone in the room forgot the kind of man he can be.  Still, there were mostly positive feelings in the room.  The power of a strong voice, like Adele’s, Alicia Keys’ or Glen Campbell’s or Bonnie Raitt’s slide guitar commands some healthy respect.   Bruce Springsteen’s working class ethics, the funky moves of Bruno Mars or the Beach Boys reuniting to perform Good Vibrations or the fact there was a Beatle on stage – these were wonderful gifts to those of us lucky to be in the room.

Jay-z and Diana Ross on the JumboTron.

Our seats were good ones – not the floor where the stars are seated, but not nosebleeds either. It was impossible to guess who was seated near us.  Who was the young woman a row ahead of us who struggled to keep her stretchy dress from rising up too high?  I’ve seen some short ones, but at the risk of sounding like an old fart, this one was well into Brittany territory.  Did she hope to get a gig with that dress?  She tugged at it uncomfortably while inching her way down the aisle to her seat and then tugged again.

Two couples a few rows down couldn’t get enough of taking pictures of each other with the Grammy stage in the deep background.  While cameras are banned, cell phones are permissible so outside and inside it’s a cell-photo feeding frenzy.  I always though of music people as a pretty cool lot, but cell phone cameras have carved into any sort of aloof coolness people may have had in the past.  Everyone looks just as goofy as everyone else, no matter how they’re dressed.

The Japanese couple next to me must have just gotten off a flight from Tokyo as they slept off and on through the last few hours of the awards. With her date fast asleep with head tipped back, even the woman’s authentic traditional pink kimono with its mid-waist binding couldn’t keep her fully upright.  Jet lag got the best of them, in spite of the sound wall of the Foo Fighters.  She perked up considerably when the bracelets given to us at the door for Coldplay’s set began to blink on and off in pastel fluorescent colors – the entire audience a sea of twinkly LED lights amid the blackness.

The Grammy after-party, with its Rio de Janeiro Carnival inspired theme, featured female dancers atop pedestals at the prime rib station. The irony was not lost.

After a brief tour of the after-party I noticed women removing their shoes.    Lots of them had no coats on and were wearing strapless dresses with no shawls, no jackets.  It was February.  Yes, it’s Los Angeles, but February still means chilly nights.  The long walk to parking was covered in women carrying their sequined platform shoes and seriously limping the long cold distance to their cars.

I’m thinking about the dialogues going on around Congress regarding women’s health care right now. I’m thinking of the discomfort I felt in witnessing women hobbling en masse in evening gowns.  I struggle to understand the self-infliction of injury to of a good portion of this audience. Feminism once brought to light the downside of high heels and when feminism was made a dirty word, the popularity of even more daredevil shoes snowballed.  I read recently of podiatrists reporting a huge surge in high-heel related  foot damage women are sustaining. Somehow a lot of Koolaid is being drunk.

Outside a restaurant last night my mother-in-law was complaining of her feet hurting in heels that likely were no higher than an inch and a half and we began talking to a young woman near us about shoes.  She spoke gleefully of getting dolled up with her friends all in super high heels to go clubbing and how their feet all killed them before the night was out.  She said “they make us look so pretty, but we don’t care how we look at the end, our feet hurt so bad.”  I think about her.  I think about how unsexy a herd of gimpy women looks.  I don’t get it. I end up thinking the woman with the hot pink fuzzy bathmat boots looked somewhat sensible.  She had her feet pretty much on the ground and she still managed to steal the scene.

Where's the beef? Found it.