Riding 1st Class on the Titanic
Nathan Lyons Blue Sky Gallery
Through Oct 27
Riding 1st Class on the Titanic reveals photographer Nathan Lyons' capacity as a backseat political commentator. Lyons' series of black and white images are snapshots of an anonymous urban landscape; each act as an intriguing tidbit of a larger puzzle.
They abstract documents that collectively reveal subcultures of the city. This largely materializes not through images of forms, but through images of text; Lyons records various marks left by individuals seeking to be heard. Phrases like, "No Penis, No God" and "Floating Anarchy" are just two examples of the personal anthems made public by graffiti artists, taggers, and advertisers.
There are two aspects of Lyons' work that become detriments. First, the prints are not technical marvels. The tonal range is limited to a murky grays. Second, with text as the conceptual thread, Lyons appears more as editor than image-maker. The use of text in this visual enterprise comes across as the all-too-easy route for Lyons to communicate his ideas. However, the specific nature of the text saves the exhibit from total ruin. Because Lyons uses other people's words, the exhibit takes on an interesting socio-anthropological presence.
In one of the many untitled diptychs, Lyons contrasts two weighty images. In one, a remote firing range is revealed. Tacked to a sturdy support, layers of paper targets accumulate to create a skin of targets and bullet holes. Lyons contrasts this scene with the side of a brick building tagged with the message: "Change Life, Not Leaders".
In another diptych, Lyons offers a platform for the discussion of sexual politics. On the left, he captures a window display that showcases a fetching poster. The star is a chiseled, blonde hunk that leers at us with bedroom eyes. The second photograph reveals what could be the female counterpart in this game of sexual advertising. (Though the product being advertised in each is not known). Affixed to a concrete pillar, a poster features a young, scantily clad, blonde woman. Big hair, well-defined eyes, and lush red lips complete her. She teases her admirers with a come-hither expression as she suckles one of her sculpted nails.
The kicker to this diptych is a bumper sticker slapped onto the poster. It reads, "What's the Difference?" Without overt authorship, Lyons points out that both men and women are used to sensualize everything from toothpaste to soda pop. The significance of Lyons' exhibit is pronounced by context. In the last month, Americans have been repeatedly warned to "watch what you say." At the very least, Lyons' exhibit reminds us that the exercise of free speech has and will remain part of our culture, even if this right is relegated to graffiti and bumper stickers.