View Finder: New Images from Texas Artists

by Risa Puleo

For this third installment of the New Talent in Texas series, presented jointly by the Houston Center for Photography and FotoFest, fellow curator Arturo Palacios and I selected a group of fifteen artists from across Texas. Photography and its inherent properties (light, lens, image) is the primary medium of some of the artists, while others use photography as a tool, picking up a camera when it suits the conceptual and material needs of their ideas. In this preview of Viewfinder: New Images from Texas Artists, these artists present their most recent photography-based work. Their images tell us as much about the medium of photography - its role in our lives and the possibilities it presents for art-making - as they tell us about the people, objects and moments they represent.

Planet Earth has been destroyed by an underground cult of cyberterrorists and corrupt world figures! We may not be there yet, but in Business Deals in the New Future, Ben Aqua anticipates how old habits will continue after the dust from the apocalypse has settled. Staged in the wreckage of a collapsed building, Aqua's vision of the future draws from the visual syntax of editorial fashion photography, where the illogical contrivances of set, costume and behind-the-scenes art direction coalesce into a fiction presented as reality.
In Aqua's other series, titled after each photograph's sitter, he reexamines the genre of portraiture, claiming that the environments one constructs and the accoutrements with which one surrounds oneself create a greater understanding of a person and his or her image.

The Sound Killers depicts characters that Zeque Pena developed for and were inspired by the band Zechs Marquise. Pena's heavily stylized characters are visual mashups of the suspenseful narratives of graphic novels and Italian neorealist. Costume and setting were improvised to evoke the tenor of the music. While the narrative of the album is ambiguous, Pena's images establish the characters in a cinema of sound.

A sense of foreboding and psychological tension lingers in Beau Comeaux's photographs. Perspective, focus, light, and color are manipulated beyond our everyday experience, transforming real buildings and environments into stage props for a fantasy of the artist's construction.

The Living Room Scale Project is a photographic investigation of the American class system. Operating on the assumption that class in the United States is determined not by birth or education as understood historically, but by consumer purchasing power, Piotr Chizinski examines the two largest classes in American society - the proletariat or working class and the middle class. For Chizinski, living rooms function as showrooms for our purchases. A composite panoramic image taken from the vantage point of the front door offers a glimpse into a environments constructed by a purchasers that reveal their interests and lifestyles. Using his own pseudo-scientific methodology, Chizinski attaches positive or negative values to the objects found in a participant's living room to evaluate his or her socio-economic status as well as Chizinski's own class biases.

Using a motion-activated infrared surveillance camera that records his actions in minute intervals, Buster Graybill documents himself skinning a deer in his driveway in this examination of the intersections of urban and rural culture, high and low art forms, and the socioeconomics that separate these many worlds. Although Graybill primarily constructs large-scale sculptures and installations, for this project he chose new photography-based technology because it is used with increasing frequency in stores and city streets as a means of preventing crime as well as a means of scouting prey while deer hunting. The urban and rural uses of the surveillance camera collide in Get'n Groceries, a project that shifts between photography and documentation of Graybill performing his rural roots in front of the camera.

For her project My Own Backyard, Rebecca S. Carter expands the possibilities for herself as an image maker by introducing other subjectivities into the process. After outfitting her cat with a "cat-cam," a camera attached via a special suit to the cat's body, Carter's feline participant is free to roam about the backyard. Glitches in transmission between cat, camera and receiver create images with psychedelic colors and pixilated abstractions.
Carter's images offer glimpse of another world hidden in our everyday surroundings, which are revealed in a new and unexpected way.

For the past few years, Anna Krachey has been exploring the ways in which the digital age has changed photography. In an era when picture phones and computer-based slideshow programs eliminate the need to spend time and money, making a print is an investment of material value. Krachey often turns to eBay, a repository for the sale of amateur photographs, for inspiration. In the exhibition is a display of photographs of photographs and photographs of objects Krachey purchased on eBay related to horses and horse memorabilia. Comparing the valuation systems of the horsing industry with that of the online auction site, Krachey reinvests material value into objects once so hard-won and prized - blue ribbons and trophies that have been sold to the highest bidder - by rephotographing and reprinting them.


Ivan Lozano's Everything to Gain summons the spirits of queer histories. Images from underground filmmaker Mike Kuchar's 1966 16mm short film The Secret of Wendell Sampson, a character study of a closeted homosexual's psychotic breakdown, are laboriously re-photographed - from DVD to black-and-white Super-8 film to point-and-shoot consumer grade still camera in "movie mode" - to create a two-channel video portrait of the mind-body schism imposed on previous generations of gay men by homophobic social structures. The "mind" is represented by a barely seen image of a man repeatedly turning his back to us in defeat and shame, trapped in the box of the monitor, while a wall-sized projection presents and makes the spectral body tangible - writhing, bound in spiderweb-like rope, struggling and unable to escape. The title, taken from a speech by ACT UP founder Larry Kramer, is a reminder that the fight Lozano invokes is an old fight, and one that isn't over yet.


Upon first look, Robin Germany's photographs appear to be blown-up views from the microscope. Veins and arteries interlace in a tangle of blue and red; bacterial cells and viruses reveal their microscopic shapes. Digitally manipulating images of nature to look simultaneously abstract and anatomical, Germany elevates the genre of nature photography to a new level, revealing the connections between our bodies and the natural world.


Using a digital camera, Justin Parr shoots a sequence of images of places and people in his hometown of San Antonio as fast as his finger can release the shutter. He then compiles these still images into a video sequence. Because of the inability of the digital camera to save images at the rate that Parr takes them, the film moves backwards and forwards in time. Parr composes a soundtrack, which is not synched to the video, using the same method. At times, the soundtrack poetically matches the scenes captured to tell a compelling tale of a place through the eyes of one its inhabitants.


Ansen Seale does not manipulate his photographs. A digital slitscan camera of his invention captures the passing of time in a single exposure. A scene framed within this camera is imaged over an extended period of time, with objects inserting themselves into the data stream at different speeds and directions. Still objects are blurred, while moving bodies are rendered clearly. Instead of capturing an image of reality as we see it, Seale and his camera record a hidden reality in which vectors of movement and the passage of time are visible.


The subject of Lupita Murillo Tinnen's work is the undocumented Mexican immigrant population of Fort Worth. Her images tell the story of a community through the objects with which its participants surround themselves and the environments they create for themselves. Tinnen photographs this community through glimpses and close-shot details; wider shots would disclose locations that could lead to deportation, making the decision to restrict the viewer's perspective an ethical one.


Journeys, both literal and emotional, are the subjects of Emilie Duval's videos. In Between Borders, Duval examines the duality between desire and reality in the immigration process. Il est Dangereux de se Pencher au dehors shows the ways of a child in different spaces and represents a passage from childhood to adulthood. Both pieces evoke the consciousnesses of their subjects, immigrant and child, through successions of poignant images.

Two works by David Waddell update flip-books and stop-motion animation for the digital age. In /'Pleasure for CommutersWaddell produces creatures from household objects, then photographs these creatures in nature. The still images are uploaded to an iPod, which allows the viewer control of the speed and order the images play. The elaborate scenes and objects in The Order were all composed within a two-and-a-half by two-and-a-half foot space using common and disposable household items. Crafting and composing thousands of still images into a meticulously choreographed ballet, Waddell creates all the special effects by manipulating the apparatus of the camera.


Personal in experience, yet universal in its themes, Eduardo Garcia's video Pata de Perro explores the challenges of hardships both physical and emotional. In this video, composed of stills of medical scans, Garcia accentuates the colors and sounds that exist in trauma, with the understanding that trauma does not discriminate.