Lucinda Bunnen suspects that Atlanta photographers expect her to have traditional tastes. Grand matriarch of photographic philanthropy in the South (the High Museum dedicated a photographic gallery in her honor), she recently juried a show at Atlanta Photo Gallery as part of Atlanta Celebrates Photography. Despite seeing a lot of formulaic black-and-white photographs, Bunnen curated a show with much more avant-garde sensibilities. The more than 60 works on view represent a gamut of creative photography—some look like paintings, some include rephotographed paintings, and some even look like gold-tinged etchings.
Disclosure: I work with Lucinda Bunnen, and we’ve discussed at length her approach to jurying this show. This article is not meant to be a review of her choices but is intended to offer some insight into how juried shows work.
Bunnen says she selected the photographs based on what worked best together. She did not go in with a specific theme, such as animal or people photos, but chose images for their contribution to the greater gestalt. She tells artists that submitting images based on what they think the judge will like best is not a good strategy. “Submit work that you believe is your best,” she says. Here, the works that play well off each other were photographs that showed imaginative methods of shooting, printing, or presentation.
Around 250 works were submitted for this show. Bunnen, who judged the works blind to artists’ names, said choosing the works was “agonizing” because they were so strong. If she recognized that two images were by the same artist (perhaps the subject, printing, or framing clued her in), she might choose one but then consider the rest of the submissions before coming back to someone who’d already made it in the show. Despite this, some very talented artists had multiple submissions chosen for “Lucinda Bunnen Selects.”
One of those artists is Oktawian Otlewski, a graduate photo student at SCAD-Atlanta. Otlewski creates scenes with trompe l’oeil achieved on dual levels. He goes into spaces and lays colored tape down on multiple surfaces so that, when photographed from a specific angle, a geometric figure floats in the image. In one stunning submission, Otlewski created a stretched-out triangle of cubes in a tiled bathroom. At first glance, it looks like a plain picture with 3-dimensional figures digitally overlaid. On closer examination, you can see the outline of the tape and observe the artist’s hand in creating this faux-virtual reality. Otlewski takes his trompe l’oeil one step further—if you photograph his work from an angle (the artist set up a string to show you where to aim from), the shape in the image turns into a perfect triangle. The bathroom around it now appears smooshed against the computer-perfect figures Otlewski created with tape. Another photo in the gallery plays with the same trick; Otlewski even included the art-object that spawned the photo. This type of work exemplifies the avant-garde explorations of medium Bunnen was drawn to.
A work by John S. Howe, called Anomaly in Red, greatly intrigued Bunnen. The photograph appears to be completely abstract—constellations of red, pink, maroon, and white. Bunnen homed in on a face popping out through the clusters, and enjoyed how the work drew her in and created a challenge in interpreting the figures. Bunnen is always interested in finding a “new way to look” when it comes to photography, and Howe’s work showed her a fresh way to construct a subject.
Tresha Glenister submitted an intriguing image of a shed in the middle of a desert with a child’s face painted on the side. The image made me wonder: in this beautiful but desolate landscape, who was responsible for this lonely bit of creativity? Russell Streur presents an image of two windows with wooden shutters, slightly dilapidated, with childlike constellations painted on the glass. In each window the curtain is pulled back slightly—just enough to give viewers the idea that somebody lives there, and people may be hiding deep in the photograph. Neither of these images is experimental in style or execution; however, they both present the magical moment all photographers search for.
Although Bunnen juried the show, she does not decide who gets the $500 purchase award. Through the support of artist Virginia Twinam Smith, two artists will each have their work purchased for the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art Georgia. MOCA GA director Annette Cone-Skelton will choose the winning artists.
“Lucinda Bunnen Selects” is on view at Atlanta Photography Gallery through November 1.
Matthew Terrell writes, photographs, and creates videos in the fine city of Atlanta. His work can be found regularly on the Huffington Post, where he covers such subjects as the queer history of the South, drag culture, and gay men’s health issues. He is a cofounding member of Legendary Children, Atlanta’s premier queer art collective. Terrell received an Idea Capital Grant in 2014 for his project “Sweet Tea: The Story of the Queer South.” In 2014, he found a forgotten fragment of a Keith Haring mural at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta—it was his most proud achievement. Terrell received his BFA and MFA in writing from the Savannah College of Art and Design; he also has an MA in communications from Georgia State University.