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Sunday, April 7, 2019

Photography Regional 41 at Collar Works

Jeff Lansing - Albany Warehouse District 1 (with text added by Collar Works)
Every Photography Regional is unique, but the 41st edition of this popular and often controversial annual is even more different than most, due to a new venue and particularly tight jurying.

This year, the peripatetic show has found a Troy home at Collar Works, a raw and ample nonprofit space that opened for business a little over three years ago under the guidance of Executive Director Elizabeth Dubben, and quickly made a name for itself as an innovative hub of the local contemporary arts scene.

Justin Baker - Frodo's Ghost II
Historically, the Photo Regional has always rotated among sponsoring organizations. When it began in 1979, responsibility for it was shared between Albany Center Gallery and the former Rensselaer County Council for the Arts (RCCA) in Troy. After RCCA (now known as the Arts Center of the Capital Region) bowed out in the mid-'90s, other venues took up the cause, including Fulton Street Gallery and the PhotoCenter in Troy, and the Albany Airport Gallery in Colonie. Albany Center Gallery has continued to be in the mix since it first hosted in 1980; Sage College of Albany's Opalka Gallery has held the show every three years since 2003; and now there's Collar Works, which I hope will remain as a regular host in the cycles to come.

Natasha Holmes - Babble, Bubble
Regular followers of the Photo Regional will be struck by how different in scope the current iteration is from the previous 40: With only 18 works by 15 artists, it's by far the sparest version ever. The only comparison I can make would be to the 2003 Artists of the Mohawk Hudson Region Juried Exhibition at UAlbany's Art Museum, which had just 17 artists and 35 works in it (trivia buffs may note that one artist, Justin Baker, was selected for both). Typically, either of these Regionals will include far more work (for example, two years ago at ACG, the 39th Photo Regional included 72 pieces by 51 artists).

That said, whereas the 2003 Mohawk-Hudson Regional was overwhelmed by the UAlbany Museum's vast, two-story space, Photo Regional 41 sits fairly comfortably in the low-ceilinged Collar Works gallery. On my first visit, having heard about the small number of works included, I doubted they could hold the space - but I found that dividing walls, along with sensible pairings and groupings of related pieces, have given the minimal selection enough support to stand up.

Theresa Swidorski - Forest Gate
Chosen by Brooklyn-based curators Kathleen Vance and Daniel Ayecock from submissions by 88 artists, the show hews to the traditional; few of the images deviate very far from the camera-made, though the collection feels contemporary in style, subject, and coloration. Only three of the 18 pieces are monochromatic and, of those, just one is black and white (the other two being a cyanotype, which is blue, and a digitally-reproduced toned darkroom print in a range of dark browns). Overall, the technical and visual quality of the images is high but, as with all such shows, there are a few clunkers (I'll leave it to the readers to see the show and decide for themselves which ones those may be).

Coby Berger - Albany Super Storage
Another distinction of this Regional is that, though it was juried from an open call (i.e. not an invitational), no prizes were awarded, apart from the jurors' decision to give the "top three" among the accepted artists two pictures in the show, while the other 12 selected artists have one picture each. Those three - Justin Baker, Chris DeMarco, and Jeff Lansing - are all worthy of the distinction, and the pairs of pictures included by each make strong presentations.

With so many variations on the usual theme, this Photo Regional provides a lot of food for thought. Is it better to see more or fewer artists in a large group show? Does seeing two or three of an individual artist's pieces help you understand and appreciate their work better, or could more time spent with just one piece provide greater insight? Can 18 artists adequately represent a region? For that matter, can any show represent a region at all?

Chris DeMarco - Test Site 2
As in most Regionals, this show includes a number of familiar names as well as a few new ones. In addition to the jurors' top three choices, I particularly liked George Guarino's geometric and heavily textured digital photo assemblage titled Daughter Mother; Natasha Holmes's Babble, Bubble, a fun-filled concoction of commonplace objects; Robert Coppola's colorful bit of Americana from Santa Cruz, Calif.; Theresa Swidorski's spooky reverse-printed Forest Gate; and Coby Berger's painterly urban study Albany Super Storage.

Other work that caught my eye included unrelated mist-shrouded night scenes by William Gill and Christopher Herrera, and a quiet suburban scene by Monica Hamilton. The other artists included in the show are Kieran Barber, Hannah Alsdorf, Scott Keidong, and Hillary Raimo. It's worth noting that Hamilton and Barber are both college students (at Skidmore and Saint Rose, respectively), showing that even a very tightly juried show can offer first-time professional opportunities for up-and-comers. That kind of openness is one of the things that makes an annual Regional like this both popular and vital to the community.

Photography Regional 41 runs through April 27. Please note, Collar Works has limited hours: 12 to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and 12 to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Monica Hamilton - Layers of Green, Layers of Wheels, Leadville, Colorado


George Guarino said...

David thanks for giving your time and attention to this show, Photo Regional 41. I too felt that the limited amount of pictures chosen sat well in the space due to Elizabeth's keen eye for using Collar Works to its full advantage. Viewers were really encouraged to spend time with each piece which is not always the case when you're overwhelmed with an abundance of images to ingest. On the other hand, as you ask, does it represent the totality of makers in the Capital Region who are playing with the vast possibilities that the medium of photography offers us today? Probably not, but due to your recording and analysis we'll always have something to compare in the future as more and more passionate creatives submit work to future Photo Regionals. You're doing a vital service. Thank you. G

PS. I think Sarge would approve.

david brickman said...

George, thank you for your insight and encouragement. -db

John Rowen said...

I loved that photo of the two wheelbarrows. It's accurate and artistic at the same time. Thanks for including, David.