HCP Juried Show: Confusing

By April Rapier

Annual Juried Exhibition.

The Houston Center for Photography
January 4 to February 10, 1985.
My feeling is that many stalwart viewers left this exhibition, juried by Anne Tucker, curator of photog­rapher at the Museum of Fine Arts. Houston, with the feeling of having missed out on some vital piece of information, some common ele­ment that would explain the gim­mickry and conclusion. Yet we are expected to believe that this show is representative of photography today. Three things characterized the exhibition; conceptual ideas without visual clarity or follow-through, imitative continuation of grand old traditions (from-the-hip street shots, travel records, large format landscape-illusions, medita­tions on the ordinary), and the assemblage of text and found imagery (collage, inclusion of old pho­tographs, and mixed media). To the extent that any exhibit has its (sub­jective) winners and losers, this one is not exceptional. The weakest work is mindless and in one or two cases egregious. Surely there is rhyme and reason to the exhibit, but the connections are obscure.
Several artists bear mention, however, as being remarkable or admirably on the right track. Some of their work redefines the above mentioned categories, breaking free creatively.
Hil Scott's small color photo­graphs are like a three ring circus, filled with illusion and nice tom­foolery, the unexpected a constant. More importantly, they are not clever or glib. The element of scale is played with wisely — the viewer's patience isn't put-upon. Only one, "Receding Dots," leaves his control, descending into the device of design. They strike a satisfactory balance between complexity of the elements within the picture and structural simplicity.
In a similar manner. William Pankey transforms the magical into the ordinary and back, a charming completion of the circle. He does so for example, in ‘Munger Street, Dallas’, by hiding most of the scene behind a fence, thereby rendering it far more desirable. A hammock, climbing ivy. and stairs all run ram­pant in the imagination, combining to outshine their predictable realities.
Gary Faye also accomplishes a sense of wonder, with a much dif­ferent result in the portrait "Lee and Jud". Two people are seen in peculiar dress, the intensity in their faces substantiated by the rifle the man holds. One slowly becomes aware of his hand gripping her waist, flesh exposed. Questions start to form, and they are in­creasingly discomforting. What is the nature of the relationship between the people (gun aside), of the performance, the seeming hostility? At some point, the background asserts itself, for it is a rich and marvelous one, replete with concurring symbols and confusion. Even as questions continue to arise, the portrait is complete.
Paul Hester's documentaries of conscience and will have become increasingly blatant and spare, his a voice of protest with no pretense of politeness left. The opinions arc more obvious now, perhaps he grew tired of being misunderstood or met with the glazed-over confusion of guilt. "Where is your il­lusion of control?” the text/voice asks, quiet and strong. The light is natural now, the male model is nude, his body strong and supple; his dance movements readily con­vert to battle stances as our imaginations grow with Hester s politics of caring.
Doe Doherty is represented by a single image, entitled "Under­water I." Beautiful and evocative, it is in perfect equilibrium and man­ages to exist quite nicely alone, although one feels sure that its companion pieces could only en­hance it. On the other hand, Laura Derrick’s portfolio is dominated by a single image — an interior that says a good deal more about the real absurdity and desperation of poverty that any number of street children images could — because it is a portrait of oblivion. The house­hold iconography is odd, the TV is on, its image faint, and a small boy grins in delight at the attention he receives. He, unlike the other run­down children in her pictures, is unaware, untouched by well- meaning media intruson. It is a very potent image.
In her large, multi media pieces, Rita DeWitt has the visual sensibi­lity of an emotional pack rat. One feels sure that nothing escapes her attention, that sooner or later it will integrate and fuse as an ele­ment in these ongoing puzzles. Her use of words (text from old books, journal entries) and photographic and other electrostatically reproduced imagery serve as the basis for an elaborate visual acting-out of emotional data. Her technique is perfect; one can devote countless hours to pondering the beauty and pain contained within the pieces Ward Sanders treads gingerly through text and old photographs, in spite of the volatile overtones of the subject matter. In one instance, a man is being strapped into an electric chair: the caption reads "Sentimental Journey." The odd marvels of eccentricity are en­hanced by toning, hand-applied color, and religious overtones. They are unsettling and, one hopes, a series to be further explored.
Sandra Schwimmer has captioned old photographs (from movie magazines?) with funny issues that are like Laurie Anderson rewriting Dear Abby and Family Post. They are camp commentary, and are welcome.
Artists included in the exhibition were: Patsy Cravens (reviewed elsewhere in this issue), Megan Daly, Robert Dean, Laura Derrick, Michel Dimanche, Doe Doherty, Gary Faye, Miranda Gatewood, Monte Gerlach, Paul Hester, James Iska, William Pankey, James Paster Pam Pitt, Ward Sanders, Hil Scott, and Rita DeWitt.