Reviewing a juried, group photography show is a lot like finding an old box of photographs hidden in a closet. Peel open the box, and you discover pictures you love immediately, blurry shots that need to be tossed in the Dumpster, embarrassing shots you immediately tear up, and images you didn't know you had or forgot existed. Jurors Jeff T. Alu, Gina Genis, Kirk Pedersen and Susan Spiritus have sorted through almost 700 photographs and videos to come up with the 80-plus on display for Orange County Center for Contemporary Art's “Give Us Your Best Shot.”
Now it's my turn.
THE SIMPLE SNAPSHOT THAT GIVES US MORE THAN WE EXPECTED: Sharam Sepehr's Rings is a black-and-white side shot of seven gymnastics rings that looks to have been taken early in the morning, with the dew dripping off the metal like the sweat off an athlete. Isolation figures also in Danielle Giudici Wallis' Hot Plate, caked with a bubbled-over, charred food residue that's reminiscent of a decade of lonely cooking. Barbara Parmet's Leap features a woman jumping, her voluminous veil and heavy clothing lifting and floating gracefully as the shot captures her midair, leaving us to ponder whether she'll make it to the other side. In sharp contrast to Parmet's proto-feminism is Gloria Golden's The Tango, a sepia-toned image of a woman hanging over a man's shoulder as though she's a broken doll, reminding us of outdated attitudes about women as sexual prizes.
THE LANDSCAPE THAT'S MORE THAN JUST A POINT AND CLICK: In Erion Cuko's Big Sur Nights, the brilliant constellation of colorful lights amid swirling fog makes a nightscape of the Northern California coastline resemble an outtake from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Floating Icebergs In Drift Ice by Camile Seaman is exactly what it says it is: chilly, deep blues and the palest of whites, an ice-cold lunar landscape waiting for its own Titanic.
A MOMENT IN TIME: The faceless busker playing a violin in a New York subway station is The Ghost in the Machine of Jen Mitsuko's shot, crowds of people swirling about the artist in a formless mechanical mass.
DIGITAL MANIPULATION: Ray Bravo's digital print The Temptation of St. Anthony After Martin Schongauer is not a photograph, per se—it's more a captured still, so it probably doesn't really belong in the show, but the intense (and very loud) video accompanying it that blasts away in a back room changed my mind. Essentially an animated series of photographs, Bravo treats Anthony's visions as violent, demonic hallucinations induced by sexual repression. Amid the antique porn images and copulating insects, the brilliant, deliciously grotesque execution of the digital animation explodes off the screen, its nightmarish soundtrack as garish and effective as its scenic design.
Just a few steps away, Julee Holcombe's startling manipulation of several photographs to suggest one vast unique landscape may not have the gut punch of Bravo's work, but it involves an equal amount of imagination: As with the mythological multi-beast referenced in the title, Lucent Weeping In Shadow of Spring (part of “Made In Chimerica”) combines images of fish, a tourist park, a multitude of trees and construction equipment parked precariously to create an exhilarating photographic representation of Asian scroll art. At passing glance, it just looks like a matchless countryside, but upon longer, closer examination, the off-kilter combo creates a permeation of uneasiness and awe.
Walt Jones' Swing is two swashes of color, with a red (female) and blue (male) figure floating and twirling through the air as though leaves caught in a breeze. Jones has treated the photo by dipping it in a clear wax, adding further texture and density to the bright image, making it seem to be something delicate from long ago, while also suggesting the wax of records, candles and romance. Abigail Gumbiner's Sculpted Photograph-Chrome #7 feels less like a photo than a sculpture, but her print of car chrome, trees and the photographer herself has been “carved” once via software manipulation, and then a second time with the artist bending and shaping the photographs by hand along the lines of the manipulation, accentuating the roiling and rippling effect to make it bulge and lift outside the frame. Melissa Vincent's composite image Daredevil is of a small boy dancing on the tip of an airplane wing while in flight. The joy counteracts memories of the William Shatner episode of The Twilight Zone that initially comes to mind, but the uplifting image of the child surrounded by clouds also brings to heart the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, and it's enough to bring a lump to your throat.
This review appeared in print as “Sure Shots: Casting a critical eye toward OCCCA's selection of best photography.”