Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

by Lynn M. Herbert

By bringing together six “issue-oriented” photography projects for this exhibition, A.D. Coleman draws attention to the variety of issues currently engaging photographers, as well as the variety of ways they have chosen to convey their messages about their subjects.

Linda Troeller’s TB-AIDS DIARY deals with contagious diseases and the stigmas attached to them. Her diaristic collages combining photographs with personal items, such as letters, began by focusing on tuberculosis, drawing on her own family’s battle with it. Seeing many parallel problems with AIDS, Troeller continued her diary, drawing inspiration from a mother who was willing to share the experience of her son dying from AIDS. Troeller’s rich collage technique takes these issues out of the clinical arena and allows us to sit with them awhile on a personal level.

Herman Emmet’s Fruit Tramps is a wrenching reminder of the plight of fruit and vegetable pickers in the United States, a plight we had hoped ended with The Grapes of Wrath and the documentary work of Dorothea Lange. Emmet’s harsh black and white photographs take us deep into the world of the Tindal family, deep enough to see that they are people like you and me, and deep enough to see that the agricultural system is not treating them fairly.

In Granddaughters of the Corn, Marilyn Anderson and Jonathan Garlock have found a way to permanently stamp in our minds the “disappeared” of Guatemala. Anderson provided formal portraits of Guatemalan women and girls that portray serenity, dignity, and calm. These portraits were taken when she was working on an earlier project about weaving in Guatemala. In Granddaughters of the Corn, these regal portraits are combined with Garlock’s handwritten text that reveals the horrific statistics confronting such women in Guatemala (rape, pillage, torture, and murder), and lists names of the women who have “disappeared.” It is the contrast between these two elements, the photographs and the frightening words, that cannot help but make a permanent impression on any viewer’s mind.

In such company, Julio Mitchel’s A Conversation, which deals with a variety of ills, seemed a bit diluted. And in Fran Antmann’s project, she combines her recent photographs documenting the conditions in the Peruvian mining town of Morococha with those of Sebastian Rodriguez taken earlier in the century. Despite her intent, one can’t help but compare the work and choose to spend more time with Rodriguez’s charming portraits made with a large format camera and glass-plate negatives.

Lonny Shavelson’s project, I’m Not Crazy, I Just Lost My Glasses, an engrossing project combining portraits and oral histories or people who have been in mental institutions, has been discussed at length in these pages (see SPOT, Spring 1988), so I will close by thanking the curator for bringing together a diverse group of heartfelt projects, for offering ample explanatory text in a venue that frequently offered none, and for showing viewers that there are many ways to skin a cat.