For Nothing Is Lost, ex-Portland photographer Mariana Tres set down her own camera and invited people from all over the world to help create her solo show at Newspace Center for Photography. It's a pervasive trend at the moment—"crowdsourcing" as a friend recently tagged it. Relying on a "wisdom of the crowds" wiki-sensibility, artists are asking friends and strangers to come together in feel-good collaborations, hoping that the input of a few dozen "outsiders" will trump one artist's singular vision. And if nothing else, the artist hopes that their own egolessness and kindness will compensate for any underwhelming final products. If only it were so easy.
For her latest project, Tres sent out disposable cameras to 33 people, including an Israeli soldier, an eight-year-old in Seattle, and an astrophysicist. Their only instructions were to use the cameras for 24 hours, and then to send them back to Tres. Tres whittled the resulting images down to a few hundred 4" x 6" prints and installed them thematically on the walls of Newspace. The resulting photographs are predictably amateurish (that's their charm, presumably), and are meant to suggest a Family of Man-style commonality that runs through us all. Rather than organizing the prints by photographer, which would give a clearer view of each creator's life, Tres took the interesting route of grouping the photographs by subject matter. There's the section of yawning cat and lazy dog photos, the winter scenes of leafless trees, the snapshots of family members and roommates, pictures of food cooking on the stove, and so forth.
This approach is meant to suggest that our lives are essentially the same, with differences in the details. We must eat, we must have loved ones, we personalize the spaces we live in, we enjoy the loyalty of animal companionship, etc. Unfortunately, Nothing Is Lost simply illustrates something else: that a lot of non-artists with short deadlines and vague directions tend to produce similarly forgettable photographs. Ultimately, this show is an exercise in banality that teaches us nothing new about the world, nor rewards our senses with visual pleasure. What could have been far more interesting, perhaps, would have been for one person to spend years training their eye and their sensibilities, and then to craft a thoughtful exhibition of their best work.