When the two exhibitions, Escape and Sun and Shadow, opened at Jennifer Schwartz Gallery late last month, the space was packed to the point that I decided to return at a later date to see what the show was really about. The photographs seemed a little odd, but, on the second visit, one walk through the entire show from front to back made it clear that I shouldn’t have left so quickly.
Escape exhibits the humorous side of life through two different bodies of work from Kendrick Brinson and David Walter Banks, while Sun and Shadow is a collection of photographs from Mario DiGirolamo’s book, Sole e Ombra. When paired together, the two exhibitions contain a variety of explorations into the idea of escapism, evoking a period of time when reality as we know it ceases and our imaginative state takes over. The medium of photography helps this concept by capturing that which is unique, strange, or odd about life and the human experience.
When you walk into the gallery, you see David Walter Banks’s photographs first. His series titled The Fourth Wall displays images of mermaids, bush dinosaurs, zombies, and rooms dressed up as fake landscapes. Banks is a conceptual photojournalist that seems to relish in photographing things that people normally would think of as off-beat. What’s honestly strange about his photographs is that they are records of actual places where people interact. It is rather odd to see a photo of a wall meant to depict Jerusalem, painted as a desert landscape with short palm trees planted in front and working fans that are unsuccessfully camouflaged into the landscape. When paired next to Brinson’s photographs, the theme of escapism continues into a retirement community in Arizona.
Brinson has a photojournalism background similar to Banks, and both are founding members of LUCEO, a photographer cooperative that supports their members “in pursuit of significant bodies of work,” according to the show’s press release. Brinson’s series is titled Sun City, and it documents a small retirement community’s daily activities. If Banks’s photograph of a stuffed deer wasn’t strange enough, then Brinson’s photograph of the Sun City Poms, a troupe of granny cheerleaders, takes the cake. Who knew someone’s grandmother out in Sun City, Arizona, could jump that high? I didn’t, and seeing these photos brightened my day.
When both bodies of work are paired together, they are superior to what is seen today as photojournalism. There is conceptual thought placed behind the lens to push the documented event into the viewer’s face. Both photographers found a compelling way to draw viewers into their works. I’ve seen many documentary photographs of people, places, and things that stick to traditional documentary style, but nothing like Banks and Brinson’s works. I can appreciate their shout-outs to classic photographers like William Eggleston. What makes these photographers good, though, is that they don’t make me dwell on Eggleston’s influence for too long. In the end, you know these small details in life were captured by Banks or Brinson.
This brings us to Mario DiGirolamo’s Sun and Shadow. Placed in the archive room of the gallery is a series of black-and-white prints from DiGirolamo’s book, Sole e Ombra. This more traditional body of work is placed in opposition to Banks and Brinson’s newer contemporary works; over 50 years separate the times when these photographs were taken, but they tell you that that the notion of capturing certain odd or unique moments in life will always continue. DiGirolamo’s work shared his time spent in Italy during the late 1950s and early 1960s. While his intent was to capture “the perfect moment,” I believe DiGirolamo helps to boost and complement the themes in Escape through the play of subject and light in his photographs. A nest of hatchlings taken up close gives us a glimpse into a special space of time: birth. A young boy standing behind a row of hanging aprons makes you wonder what the young one could grow to be.
Whether it’s a portrait of an old woman in a hot magenta gown or zombies sitting in an old-school diner, this photography show was humorous — but not in a bad way. I appreciate that it reminds me of how creative people can become when they have the time to escape from the horrors of reality. It also reminds me to laugh a little when I experience these strange moments, places, and people.
The two exhibitions, Escape and Sun and Shadow, continue at Jennifer Schwartz Gallery through February 26, 2011.