Venues For Trial By Jury

Peter Brown reports on the annual juried photographic exhibitions at Butera's restaurant, the Boulevard Gallery and the Jewish Community Center.

Excluding HCP activities, there are now three juried photography shows each year in Houston - the Jewish Community Center show, the Boulevard Gal­lery show and a "food photog­raphy" show jointly sponsored by the Glassell School and Butera's Delicatessen.

The oldest of these three is the Jewish Community Center show. It is now in its fifteenth year, and the plan and format for the show have remained remarkably similar throughout its history. Photogra­phers are asked to submit up to five photographs to be judged by a prominent photographer, photo­graphic curator or gallery owner. A show is curated by the juror, and prizes are awarded. Jurors are given Free reign: the photographs, the numbers in the show and how prizes are, or are not awarded are questions left to their discretion.

The shows, as a result, repre­sent individual tastes and seem to have a curatorial integrity that shifts with the changing jurors. Shirley Chaskin, Director of the show, says that early in the show's history, more than one juror was sometimes used. This had the ef­fect of creating a show that was perhaps more eclectic, but one that also included more compro­mises.

Local jurors initially were used as well, and although shows were strong, it was felt that people from outside Houston could be more objective: the juror would be dealing only with the photo­graphs. Since this decision, a number of eminent photographers and critics have come to Houston — Garry Winogrand,William Eggleston, Cornell Capa, Lee Wilkin and David Travis among them.

Mrs. Chaskin and her husband Meyer are very enthusiastic about the future of the show. Entries (up to 1,000 some years) come in from all over the state, and the work seems to improve each year. In the past it was the only oppor­tunity in town for relatively unknown hut talented photogra­phers to have their work evaluated by a recognized expert and have it shown to great numbers of people in a gallery. The Chaskins’ work should be applauded.

Responding to the same situation — the lack of forum for the inter­esting work being produced in Houston - Patty Walker of Boulevard Gallery decided three years ago to put on a juried show as well. She too, is enthusiastic about the quality of work that appears each spring. The show, she says, is extremely well attend­ed and has, for her gallery, one of its biggest openings.

The work is accessible and moderately priced, yet the show is not a money maker. Financial considerations enter into decisions because Boulevard, unlike the JCC, is a commercial space. To a great extent the show is a labor of love. Entry Fees had to be raised this year, which she was not pleased about.

Next year she is considering changing the format somewhat, from an open juried show to an invitational in which a more lim­ited number of photographers will he asked to submit work. She will do the jurying, rather than an out­side person. Jurors have included Clint Wilour director of Watson-DeNagy Gallery, Peter Brown and, this year, George Krause.

The most recent entry in the field of juried shows is the food photography show. It obviously is far more specific in intent; all photographs must have something to do with food. This year the first show was juried by David Maneini and Sally Gall. Mancini commented that he was surprised at the limited definition that those entering gave themselves. Anything is all right as long as it is tangentially related to food.

Perhaps partially because of the subject limitation, a strong and interesting show emerged, but is was a show that was very hard to see. The lighting in the restaurant is low and many of the photo­graphs were hung directly over tables. To see the show, it was necessary to go in off hours, and even then, the lack of light was a problem. It will be interesting to see how this show evolves over the years, and to see what effect it has on Houston photography.

There is a great deal of excite­ment and a great deal of work that is generated by these shows. A lot of talk about photography that would not otherwise take place occurs, and the shows themselves are a kind of annual barometer of photographic mood and process. It is interesting to see work grow and change and it is exciting to see new faces and work emerge.

The fact too, that jurors change from year to year and that the shows and prize winners fluctuate considerably gives individual photographers a greater trust in their own perceptions. It is, after all, finally a matter of doing work that you believe in while learning from what you see. The juried shows are a good opportunity to do both of these things.

The fact that HCP has a few of its own juried shows each year now simply expands the amount of work that will be done and the amount of photography that will be seen. We all benefit.