Photographs are perhaps the most mysterious of all the objects that make up, and thicken, the environment we recognize as modern. - Susan Sontag, On Photography
In the decades since Susan Sontag wrote a collection of critical essays about the impact of images on modern reality, our environment has grown considerably thicker - and stranger - and our notion of what is real even more complicated and confounding. Facebook, YouTube, photo blogs, reality TV and cheap digital cameras have accelerated the rate at which the image-world can expand, invent and devour reality. Culturehall presents four contemporary artists whose work, in one sense or another, testifies to these subjective and slippery ways we interpret moving and still images, and the influence of images on our fantasies, myths, fictions and identities.
German artist Stefan Heynes images investigate the perceptual psychology of how we read photographs. Heyne deliberately captures blurred images of everyday objects and spaces a wardrobe, a shelf, a corridor, a playground. The original subjects become vaguely recognizable or virtually abstract, transformed into hazy and sensual color fields. Each of these things or places translates simultaneously as familiar and elusive. Rather than providing us with a description or a set of facts, Heynes photographs delve into subconscious territory and evoke memories, emotions and associations.
Louise M. Noguchi shoots the Wild West at least the legendary place we know from movies and tourist attractions with good lookin bad guys and lots of guns, blood and dust. Her document series explores Western lore and its romance with violence and aggression. These documentary photographs made in theme parks seduce us with cowboy fantasies while poking fun at their absurdity. By showing us the stage, the props, the actors, Noguchi reveals the smoke and mirrors of a cultural myth.
Noguchi collaborated with artist June Pak to produce somewhere, an installation of five vertically stacked TV monitors appropriating a short clip of footage from The Wizard of Oz. The dramatic clip of Dorothys house falling from the sky appears on the five monitors, giving the impression that the house is falling from one monitor into another, while the sound increases until the house reaches the bottom screen. Noguchi and Pak call attention to the transfiguration of reality through the use of Hollywood effects.
Millee Tibbs series, This is a picture of me, uses self-portraiture to examine the influence of mediated images of women in vernacular photography and cultural views of sexuality. Tibbs pairs snapshots of her childhood self with staged photographs of her adult self in identical outfits and poses. Her reenactment of these girlish expressions and gestures, like talking to Daddy on the telephone or lying on her back naked in a bathtub, are provocative and unsettling, raising uncomfortable questions about childhood sexuality and the representation of femininity. The actual snapshot of Millee emulating a female pop star crooning into a microphone in a wood-paneled family room becomes creepier still in conjunction with the adult version of the same scenario.
Tema Stauffer is a photographer based in Brooklyn and a curator for Culturehall. She graduated from Oberlin College in 1995 and received a MFA in Photography from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1998. She participated in seven group shows and a solo exhibition, American Stills, at Jen Bekman Gallery. Her work is currently represented by Daniel Cooney Fine Art Gallery in New York, and she teaches photography courses at William Paterson University and the School of the International Center of Photography. She also writes a blog about photography, PalmAire.