|Ally DeRusso - father daughter dance|
The Opalka Gallery has always been slightly restless around the Photography Regional. The annual gathering of the photographic tribe has become something of a stepchild exhibition, hosted by a number of venues, each of which gives the show its own spin. In 2003, then-Opalka director Jim Richard Wilson organized the Photo Regional as an invitational, transforming what had been an open-call, juried exhibition into a curated one for the first time.
|Natalia Gillespie - Abundance|
For sure, there are aspects of the exhibition that are earnest and derivative. But, as juried by Khidr Joseph, Jayana LaFountaine, and Anna Schupak, the show does not feel at all unseasoned. In its freshness, intelligence, and diversity, this year’s Photo Regional is hugely satisfying.
I’ve taught photography to undergraduates, and most were, as young people must be, possessed by themselves and their familiar surroundings. This is death to a photographer. Writers are taught to write what they know, but photographers cannot be nearly so interior. They must immerse themselves in what they don’t know - the unknowable realm of otherness that is the visible world. What they discover there becomes the foundation of their art.
|Julia Larberg - Rainbow Self with One Leg Raised|
Often, though, when these young artists turn the camera on themselves, their interest is more persona than personal. Ally DeRusso enlists the 20th-century technology of the Polaroid instant camera for her set of five diptychs, casting herself in mini psychodramas narrated by enigmatic titles: smack you in the teeth, father daughter dance, and so on. This is the case too with Madison Scisci’s black-and-white video drama, The Release, in which she films herself in a dual role that leads either to reconciliation or liberation.
|Mateo Guevara Lemeland - Neon Boneyard|
All the photographers in this year’s Regional came of age during the dystopian regime of Donald Trump. In those years, either the past was being rewritten 1984-style by the president’s henchmen, or rendered devoid of any coherent narrative or meaning. Constant exposure to historical gaslighting might have turned these young artists ahistorical, but it hasn’t. If anything, they are the captives of history, of political divisiveness, systemic discrimination, environmental degradation. In response, documentary photography provides some of the show’s most compelling moments.
|Catherine Rafferty - A Nation that Forgets|
Other documents are more visceral. Anna Schupak takes us into the middle of a protest in her Troy series. In a pair of images, Catherine Rafferty juxtaposes the overheated red-white-blue of a Trump rally with the same palette in more somber tones. Her A Nation that Forgets places the blue dress and sandal of a black woman against red paint thrown like blood on the base of a public monument, where the inscription warns, “A Nation That Forgets Its Past Has No Future.” The “white” of the image is represented visually by the paleness of the cement plinth, and conceptually in the photo’s implication of racism.
|Rainer Turim - Tompkins Square Park|
I admit I can make no sense of the arbitrary nature of the exhibition’s 16-26 age range, except to muse, somewhat cynically, that the aim was to attract high schoolers to Sage’s art programs. As it turned out, there is no one under college age in the show, the average age being about 22. (The only teenager is Xiaoxuan Lisa Li, whose tense, formal manipulations more than hold their own with the older exhibitors’ work.)
Rather than the weird high-school-to-post-MFA age swing, why not a more traditional “under 30” show, a range that allows for a greater number of mature emerging artists? The three jurors, all of whom are under 26, have given a hybrid feel to the exhibition they organized. While a call for entries opened the show to all, one suspects some of the artists were hand-picked by the jurors from among their friends and colleagues. The final selection feels more curated than the typical juried exhibit.
|Xiaoxuan Lisa Li - Bat I|
These are serious questions but, ultimately, they should not detract from the Regional’s comprehensive virtues: its quality, its presentation, and above all its exhilarating diversity. In what has too often been an exhibit of aging white dudes, this year’s 37 artists and 76 artworks provide, in both surname and subject matter, a purposeful look across racial, gender, and geographic boundaries. Yet the jurors’ obvious attention to identity never overwhelms the individual artists’ voices.
|Jahniah Kum - Resilience|
Singularly impressive are the “portraits” of six black sitters in Khidr Joseph’s Make Afros Great Again series.
Joseph gives us the backs of their heads, emphasizing their hair styles, and it’s enough. From this, we get a smart and sensuous alt-MAGA manifesto about black people’s hair and its fraught history of political and social meaning. The centuries of this struggle cannot be separated from the work’s visual beauty. Nevertheless, at a certain point, I surrendered entirely to the artist’s retinal stimulations - the pleasure of the textures revealed by his studio lights, and their kinship to the eros of color, of hair, flesh, fabric, even the chromatic seamless backgrounds. The “anonymity” of the sitters yielded to their uniqueness. The last and highest diversity is the inviolable individual.
Timothy Cahill has reviewed art in the Capital Region since 1995. He has exhibited his photography in the Photo Regional and other group and solo exhibitions. His work is in the collection of the Albany Institute of History & Art.
|Khidr Joseph - Make Afros Great Again|