at Blue Sky, 1231 NW Hoyt, through May
Photography, heal thyself! The practice of art photography has fallen into a rut from which no escape is in sight. I'm talking about the blank, neo-Germanic, expressionless, right angle-heavy school of "new" objectivity. This month our dosage comes from the Japanese photographer Keizo Kitajima, whose series Portraits and Places involve miniscule tweaks on the taxonomic movement that has been flooding out of Germany for the past 85 years. Kitajima's set-up is simple and familiar. His Places feature generic, emotionless "non-places" that house anonymous skyscrapers, parking lots, and telephone wires. Nobody is ever around in these photos, there's never a cloud in the sky, and the light is always even and nondescript. The camera approach is uniform--eye level, all right angles, and the result is an exercise in banality.
At one time (some decades ago), this approach was a shocking affront to high art and picturesque trends in landscape photography. The idea was to strip the drama out of everything, and be rid of the hand of the artist as much as possible. Students of Bernd and Hilla Becher at the Dusseldorf Kunstakademie fine-tuned this idea, and artists like Thomas Ruff, Thomas Struth, and Candida Hofer brought these no-nonsense ideas to the American art mainstream. The style caught on in a big way with students and unoriginal artists who desperately needed a "look" to latch onto. The watered down German mode was a no-brainer. The camera format was predetermined (large), as was the subject matter (vacant places or people with vacant faces), as well as the pictorial style (point the camera straight and line everything up). The final caveat is the kicker, though. Whatever the chosen subject is--security guards or Sunday school rooms--shoot a billion of 'em.
People, this has got to stop. Art is about the synthesis of millions of decisions. The act of stripping away those choices is a lame, overplayed copout that has turned into the dominant mode of contemporary photography. If this medium is to become relevant and exciting again, we need less work like Kitajima's, and more original points of view, unique chromatic decisions, diverse subjects, and at least the fleeting idea of giving the audience something to enjoy while they look at your work. CHAS BOWIE