40 Artists / 40 Years: Selections from the Light Work Collection is an illustration of how photography is not just the reflection of life, but also a creative process of reconstructing everyday things and representing them in unconventional ways.
The exhibit features 40 photographs by 40 artists-in-residence of Light Work. One photo was selected to represent each year, starting from 1973. The exhibit runs through Oct. 25 in the Kathleen O. Ellis Gallery, the main gallery space of Light Work, an artist-run, non-profit photography organization.
Arranged in a salon style under warm ceiling lights and against bright walls, the exhibit exudes an air of tranquility and peacefulness. Yet with subject matters ranging from race, gender and violence to the environment and nature, the exhibit offers an enlightening journey to diversity that exists in both subject and concept.
"Tracing the Origin IX_I_ii," created by New York-based Chinese artist Cui Fei, speaks to the relationship between human beings and nature through the use of symbolism. Fei's work, which is a photograph of arranged grape tendrils resembling Chinese written characters, is part of her ongoing series, Tracing the Origin. To create this work, the artist first made photograms by laying grape tendrils on light-sensitive paper, which produced a negative shadow, and then made contact prints from the photogram. This process, Fei said, is known as gelatin silver print photogram. By transforming her original three-dimensional works (arranged grape tendrils looking like “characters”) into photography that de-emphasizes the original objects, Fei intends to introduce a symbol of how Chinese written characters have been separated from their origins, and to make an inference of how humans have detached themselves from nature.
"Self Portrait with Triangle," created by Ellen Carey, mingles black-and-white photography with illustration in black, white and gray. By combining photography with illustration, Carey attempts to transcend the mechanical and introduce the elements of painting. Although colored in three simple colors, the photograph generates a very strong visual effect that not only brings up dimensions, but also suggests a clear visual separation, reinforcing Carey's philosophy that the form of illustration is independent from technologies.
Another work, "What Will People Think?" is produced by Annu Palakunnathu Matthew through digital manipulation. The artist recreates this poster based on existing posters of Bollywood films and additional imagery. Regarding Bollywood films as a vehicle for social values, Matthew brings attention to the practice of arranged marriages in India through breaking down mainstream values shown in the films. The title suggests the values Matthew herself was familiar with when growing up: to regulate behaviors in accordance with other people’s expectations. As an immigrant who has experienced issues of identity, Matthew successfully transcribes her struggles into a piece of artwork that both introduces satire and calls for changes.
Refreshing photography like this does not dominate the exhibit, but the images offer precious angles through which people form a deeper understanding of unfamiliar cultures, as well as universal values human beings share.