Newspace, 1632 SE 10th Avenue, showing through June 26th
Newspace's New Photography exhibit--the center's first annual national juried exhibition--assembles an eclectic mix of 39 photographers from 16 states. These works, executed in color and black & white as well as digital and traditional silver formats, take on a host of diverse subjects and resist any common theme, except, perhaps, the sheer disparity between these artists' styles and approaches. Juried by Terry Toedtemeier, the Portland Art Museum's curator of photography, New Photography captures contemporary photographers working to advance the medium for a decidedly contemporary end, while still wrestling with classical tropes--namely, portraiture and the human figure.
Jeffrey Milstein's photographs "Boeing 737 #2" and "Boeing 767 #2" present two worm's-eye-view perspectives of the aircrafts. With no background to establish depth, the airplanes' sleek contours and glistening plastic panels project a profound flatness, making these enormous machines look more like pressed flowers or pinned butterflies. Claudia J. Howell's "Dog Bites: Duck" achieves a similar effect, as a soiled plush duck is suspended--very much headless--against a black background. There is a strangely one-dimensional quality to the image: It's as if Howell smooshed her decapitated duck under a Xerox tray, conflating the fore- and background.
The most compelling pieces in the show, though, stick close to art's most enduring obsessions: the human face and body. In Siri Kaur's "Julia, Los Angeles, CA," the title figure stands in the center of the frame, wearing a wallpaper-patterned one-piece swimsuit and leaning slightly to the left. Framed by a cement block garden wall, ferns and twisting flowers, the subject seethes with a sense of awkward discomfort--even in her utopic setting. In one sense, her "back is against the wall" as she's forced to pose, but her face also bears a stern, self-possessed look. As Julia icily gazes out at the viewer, her expression invites the viewer to consider her as an autonomous subject--or just another captive image, like the bellies of Milstein's Boeings, trapped in a setting without context.