Sunday, October 19, 2008

Two good October shows

Imagine a room full of rare and beautiful photography books by wonderful photographers, few of which you've seen before, over which you can linger as long as you please. This is a good description of the current show Reading Room at Portland's PDX Gallery. PDX has put the show together in conjunction with Nazraeli Books which as far as I'm concerned is currently the top photobook publisher on the planet (sorry Steidl, Twin Palms, J & L, etc). Nazraeli treats its books like artworks, each one carefully designed and crafted. Because they are often produced in very small runs of several hundred or maybe a few thousand the majority of titles by Nazraeli are impossible to find in bookstores or libraries. So when a show like Reading Room comes along with roughly 50 such books laid out for open browsing, it is a rare opportunity to see many titles for perhaps the only time.

The fact that photobooks are given the same gallery treatment normally reserved for works of fine art is at least partial acknowledgment of the special role of the book in photography. There's no way such a show could be constructed around books of painting, sculpture, or multimedia. As many have commented before, photography has a special relationship with the book form, one which the artworld is just in the early stages of recognizing.

Tim Davis' Permanent Collection

David Maisel's Oblivion

Camilel Solyagua's Cirque des Fourmis

Koto Ezawa's The History of Photography Remix

One hundred miles south of PDX Gallery is another photo show which for many will be worth the drive. Eugene's DIVA Gallery, not normally a hotbed of daring photography, is currently showing Rhapsody in Black and White, a collection of photographs by Charles "Teenie" Harris . Harris spent his photographic career (roughly the 30s through the 60s) at the Pittsburgh Courier documenting all aspects of Pittsburgh's black community, amassing a collection of 80,000 images now housed at the Carnegie Museum of Art. About 30 of these are on display at DIVA. The photographs are documentary in the strongest most beautiful sense of the word, opening (at least for me) a mental window into a world I hadn't thought much about. There is a raw reality to these scenes which permeates their core, and which provides relief from the current trend in photography toward conceptual/staged/manipulated images.

Nuns with Children and Gifts by Charles "Teenie" Harris

Visitors in the Sinclair Oil Company dinosaur exhibit at the 1933-34 Chicago World's Fair by Charles "Teenie" Harris

Interior of the B & M Restaurant by Charles "Teenie" Harris

Four Men in Chairs Drinking by Charles "Teenie" Harris


Anonymous said...

that the books were exceptionally books well done there is little doubt.... however as far as the show being enjoyable I rather found it sad how completely the art world and this publishing company have embraced the need to promote imagery that depends on manipulation to be artistic.... unlike the images of the Harris show that apparently find strength and beauty in bearing witness .

Blake Andrews said...

One of the things I like about Nazraeli is the variety of work they publish. It is impossible to pigeonhole their style, and even the design of each book is very individualized. Yes, many of their books show manipulated/conceptual work, but they also publish enough "straight" work to keep me interested. E.g., the Steinmetz show last month at Hartman is a good example of Nazraeli's documentary side.

By the way does anyone out there know why my blog is suddenly in italic and how to get it back to normal?