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Checking in at the front desk of The Photography Show, presented by the Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD), the loud bark of a sweet Labrador, doubling as a security dog, set the room noticeably on edge. “You never know, it’s a crazy world,” a good-natured attendant remarked. In such divisive times, one thing we can agree on seems to be that the world has, in fact, gone crazy.
At this year’s show — running through the weekend at Pier 94 — you’ll find a diverse range of unusually young photographers reflecting on the reality of creating images in a world of extremes. Hyper-digital processes compete with techniques popularized in the 19th century, and caught between these opposing visions are a handful of photographers taking solace in timeless expressions of everyday life.
The psychedelic landscapes of Terri Loewenthal at Jackson Fine Art recall a time before Instagram, when Holga-induced light leaks created the distorted world we always craved. Capturing the rolling mountain ranges and sparkling oceans of California, these Psychscapes question everything from traditional landscape photography to Instagram effects like Lo-Fi and Vignette. Delving further into a world of artificial saturation, the works of the French photographer Reine Paradis at Galerie Catherine et André Hug are clearly influenced by a post-Instagram world. Storyboarding her locations before shooting humorous fashion-meets-lifestyle stills, she reduces her images to a tri-color, neon palette. In depictions of a two-dimensional fantasy life, cyan palm trees, cobalt swimming pools, and neon green airplanes critique jet-setter aspirations.
The apex of this hyper-digital aesthetic is found in the work of Serbian photographer Dusan Reljin, where a set of holographic Kate Moss portraits take clichés of beauty and digital manipulation to new heights. There is something strangely poetic about these images, as the nearly unrecognizable face of the Western world’s most iconic model drips and melts away. In a world where a billion hours of YouTube are consumed daily, these photographers collectively capture the secret inner worlds we now create and curate within the privacy of our screens.
In extreme contrast, many artists employ surprisingly old-fashioned techniques to reinterpret historic events and stories of the near and distant past. At De Soto Gallery, Ivan Forde, in a set of large-scale cyanotypes that look more like paintings or prints than photographs, brings mythology, colonization, and self-portraiture simultaneously to life. Born in Georgetown, Guyana in 1990, Forde uses family folklore to recast himself into post-emancipation narratives, or poetic tales like the Epic of Gilgamesh to explore contemporary issues of diversity and representation.
Vesna Pavlović turns to the post-war history of her native Yugoslavia, recontextualizing black-and-white archival imagery in her series Fabrics of Socialism. She projects the slides onto rippling curtains, distorting images of powerful men in uniform and intimidating armaments.
At Arnika Dawkins, Chicago native Ervin A. Johnson distorts tightly framed portraits of young Black faces in his series #InHonor, using additive collage-like techniques. Everything from paint splatters to dirty footprints give his portraits the look of distressed fresco paintings. Despite the current cultural popularity of “retro” aesthetics, these artists are not turning to lost processes to elicit a sense of nostalgia, but seem to be looking instead for clues or do-overs to shape a different present.
And though hard to find, there were the artists who abstained from the overwhelming dichotomy of digital surrealism and pre-analog processes, offering instead a reassuring window into the mundane, the fleeting, and the repetitive. At Robert Koch Gallery, Chris Dorley- Brown has documented the everyday gestures of East End Londoners in his large-format color series The Corners. The composite photographs, created through multiple exposures taken in the same location, are too sharp to be real, looking more like a movie set of frozen figurines.
The young Israeli-born, Brooklyn-based photographer Yael Eban, represented by Galerie f5.6, uses eight small-scale, snapshot-like images to create a sense of quiet meditation aptly titled is and isn’t. A series that captures the beauty of idiosyncratic moments, the images feel like relics of the early aughts, while the work of Cig Harvey at Robert Mann vacillates between the heavy-handed and the sublime. Searching for “the magical” in everyday life, she photographs her daughter through obscured scenes and gestures, where fragmentary moments of play are absorbed into lush, natural landscapes — a garden of ripe fruit, a snowy tundra, a screen door eclipsed in darkness. At best, these photographs collapse the past, present, and future into a single mysterious moment.
It’s certainly a fragmented vision at The Photography Show this year, where extreme aesthetics seem to suit an extreme world. These artists inadvertently highlight the fact that alternative realities exist today beyond the digital world, creating images of fantasy, mystery, and new memory from processes that point to both the near-future and the now-distant past.