MOPLA (the Month of Photography Los Angeles) is now in full swing, but I feel like it’s been my own personal SYOP (Shana’s Year of Photography), and it started back at the end of December 2011. In my line of work, I come across photography on a regular basis, of course. From straight photography to the digital, and incorporated as elements of mixed media works, collage, installation, documentation… But I have noticed a huge increase in the focus (pardon the pun) on photography itself across the board lately. To the point where I feel like 80% of what I’ve written about in the past four months has been celebrating photography, from the vintage and classic to the new and futuristic. I swear, I haven’t been asked to think this much about photography since I wrote my undergraduate thesis on Alfred Stieglitz and paintings of the Late Impressionists in the context of bursting urban environments, proliferating industry, and mass immigration. That was almost 20 years ago, but every so often, it’s worth thinking back on; it reminds me of certain fundamental things about the march of human history and the cultural response to it, and the impulse to record its evolution in pictures.
The scope of photography that has crossed my desk just so far this year started in earnest with progressive documentarian and social theorist Allan Sekula at Christopher Grimes Gallery, and from there branched out to post-modern romantic portraiture by Tasya van Ree, and Tranimal-inspired Pin-Ups by Austin Young. I covered iconic candid shots of rock stars by Henry Diltz, and sensational vernacular photography by the once-unknown Vivian Maier at Merry Karnowsky Gallery. The same week that I was a docent at photo LA, I covered old-school artist Bruce of Los Angeles’ fancy physique shots at Stephen Cohen, and reviewed the absurdly gorgeous book of the international artwork of ABOVE from Zero+ Publishing. Soon thereafter, the compelling group show of contemporary landscape photography Manifest Destiny at Analog Salon, and the unique, years-long portrait project by Sam Comen, 30 at 30. I profiled controversial, irreverent, and gifted fashion-fine art crossover phenomenon Jill Greenberg, and reviewed Kevin Cooley who was showing simultaneously at Kopeikin Gallery and Young Projects Gallery. I covered Backyard Oasis at the Palm Springs Museum — a mammoth and fantastic survey of the swimming pool in photography –for my previous post at this page. From that delirious and dazzling trip through the past to another, the show of new prints of previously unknown images of LA from 1949 by Ansel Adams warranted two pieces — a preview and a proper review.
By this point, I’d heard that the beloved annual SNAP:FLASH All-Photography Create:Fixate was being planned to coincide with the fast-approaching MOPLA, and I thought, yeah, perfect, photography is the order of the day around here — and I wondered both why that was, and what had taken so long. Since then, I wrote up Daido Moriyama at LACMA, and I’m working on a review of Fatemeh Burnes’ new heartbreaker of a book, also out from Zero+ Publishing. And it occurred to me in a snap/flash, so to speak, why it might be that photography, especially landscape photography and candid portraiture — in other words, pictures of the real, outside, everyday world — is experiencing such love at this moment. I think it’s because people are going nuts looking at tiny pictures on phones of faraway places and they want to see big, tactile prints of real places on a human scale. So with that idea bouncing around in my brain, I’m proud to be a part of two very different but equally fascinating MOPLA events in the lead-up to the big SNAP:FLASH party on April 28. Thursday, April 19th, I’m moderating a panel discussion with all the artists at the closing reception for BEYOND THE IMAGE downtown at KGB Studios. The curator Dale Youngman asked me to engage the very talented artists in the show on the topic of how technology has changed the genre. I’m feeling like a Luddite these days, so we’ll just see how that goes.
Then the next day, Friday, April 20, we open a group show of 12 photographers I curated at Analog Salon in Culver City. It’s called LOOKING GLASS. Here’s what I said it would be about: “Everyone knows a painter, for example, starts with a blank imagination” whereas photography by definition involves interacting with the external world not entirely of your making. For LOOKING GLASS I’ve assembled a dozen photographers whose work is in various ways made in a collaboration between the imagination and the world — to explore ways that the camera is an expressive, fantastical, imaginative and pliable medium as well as form of document that contains evidence of external reality.” Again, I seem to be returning to this theme of tactility and reality when it comes to photography –
a medium whose technological range allows for the most advanced kind of illusion-making. I also got a new iPhone, and now there are literally about 7000 pictures in my camera, so there’s this other aspect of the need to document what we experience in extreme detail, externalizing our memories to our devices and our clouds and perhaps more tellingly, having learned how to have direct experiences that are inevitably viewed as potential subject matter for a snapshot. We frame everything we see through the lens (pardon the pun) of photography. Encountering such a volume of classic examples in such a short period of time, and having that juxtapozed with a celebration of the new moment in photography has given me a rejuvenated appreciation and love for the artform, and a refreshed pair of eyes with which to navigate MOPLA.k canvas and piles of pigment and that whether they makes landscape, portrait, or abstract images based in whole, in part, or not at all on external phenomenon, that the thing they make is wholly created from “nothing” or, put another way “