Sep 282011
 
Authors: Alan Perry

An unfortunate side effect of postmodernism is indulgent art.

What I mean to say is that there is an overall reduction of art with purpose. But there is always a ray of hope to be found here or there, and one such hope can be found at the Center for Fine Art Photography, located just north of Old Town.

In a small room near the entrance, an exhibit of photographic work by a Seattle artist Molly Landreth is featured on the walls. There’s also a little print box full of 8×10 prints next to a computer that shows video pieces from the body of work titled “Embodiment: A Portrait of Queer Life in America.”

Landreth started the project in 2005, and it has been percolating for the past six years. The prints are from an inkjet printer, which takes away some of the warmth, but the actual images were made with a 4×5 field camera and color negative sheet film.

They are astounding in their resolution and detail. They’re big too; some of the prints are upwards of 32×40 inches large.

But what makes this body of work important?

I’ll be honest –– when I went into the exhibit I was expecting something that resembled exploitation a bit.

It can be very dangerous making art with a specific, marginalized group in mind, like Joel-Peter Witkin’s photographs of transsexuals and hermaphrodites, or E.J. Bellocq’s portraits from 1910 of prostitutes from New Orleans.

But the last thing these photographs are is exploitative. Because the most powerful message that these photographs convey is simple: These are normal people just like you and me.

The subjects do the same things we do, feel the same emotions we do and live in the same environment we do. And they are not afraid of the camera. There’s no deliberate posing or adverse reaction to having their photograph taken, which can be a little intimidating when you’re staring down the lens of a 4×5 field camera.

Some of the subjects react indifferently and are lost in the landscape. Others act proud. In one photograph, the subject displays a “Best Boyfriend” trophy. But a majority of the sitters stare back at the camera defiantly, as if challenging the audience.

While working on this project, Landreth drove across the country with her collaborator, Amelia Tovey, who took the videos that are offered alongside the exhibit.

From Brooklyn to Seattle to Ohio, the artists asked people if they could photograph them in their natural environment, and they developed a sort of archive – the exhibit in Old Town only shows 11 of the 80 portraits Landreth took.

The work will be on display until Oct. 29.

Local art columnist Alan Perry can be reached at verve@collegian.com.

The Exhibit

What: “Embodiment: A Portrait of Queer Life in America”

Photographer: Molly Landreth

Where: Center for Fine Art Photography

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