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photo-eye Gallery New Work by Mitch Dobrowner: Storm over Sierra Nevada photo-eye Gallery
photo-eye Gallery is excited to present a new image by Mitch Dobrowner, Storm over Sierra Nevada.

Mitch Dobrowner, Storm over Sierra Nevada, 2021, archival pigment print, 14" x 20," edition of 15, $1500

photo-eye Gallery is excited to present a new image by Mitch Dobrowner, Storm over Sierra Nevada.

By waiting for the light and atmosphere to paint the landscape to his liking — accented by his custom-modified camera and long hours in the digital darkroom — Dobrowner has developed a poetic style in the tradition of photography masters such as Ansel Adams and Minor White.

Mitch Dobrowner reflects on his Sierra Nevada work: 

John Muir once wrote "this grand show is eternal". 

I first went into the Eastern Sierra Nevada in the winter of 1981; it was then that I realized that its otherworldly, intimate and intense beauty had been calling me my entire life. 

The Sierra Nevada has always represented my belief in the exemplary value of the Earth and its extraordinary landscapes.... landscapes that define the shape and meaning of life. 
Like any photograph this image is an attempt to convey the experiences and the moods derived from my close association with this region, if only because the Sierra Nevada has helped me define the shape and meaning of my life.

Crowned with bald rocks and everlasting cold,
That melts not underneath the sun's fierce glance,
Peak above peak, fixed, dazzling, ice and stones.
 - Kate Seymour Maclean (1829-1916)

My hope is that mankind learns to humble itself and respect these vast, beautiful, wild places.
— Mitch Dobrowner 

And, to coincide with the presentation of Dobrowner's new work, we would also like to share one of our favorite images from the flat files by this outstanding artist.

Working with professional storm chasers since 2009, Dobrowner has traveled throughout America to capture extreme weather and landscapes, making stunning images of tornados and supercell storms like Helix and Trees. See below!

Mitch Dobrowner, Helix and Trees, 2017, archival pigment print, 20" x 30," edition of 40, $2500

photo-eye Gallery is proud to represent Mitch Dobrowner. To learn more about the artist and view his work, click on the links below.



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All prices listed were current at the time this post was published.


For more information, and to purchase prints, please contact Gallery Director Anne Kelly or Gallery Assistant Patricia Martin, or you may also call us at 505-988-5152 x202
Book Review You can call me Nana Photographs by Will Harris Reviewed by Laura Larson "Will Harris’ You Can Call Me Nana charts the life of his beloved grandmother, Nana Evelyn — and her decline from Alzheimer’s — through a critical reinvention of the photo album. The book features an array of images, including an archive of family photographs, contemporary photographs made by Harris, tipped-in recipe cards, and a mid-century advertisement for prefabricated homes..."

You can call me NanaBy Will Harris.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=ZJ719
You can call me Nana
Photographs by Will Harris

Overlapse, 2021. 96 pp., 120 illustrations, 6¾x8½".

Will Harris’ You Can Call Me Nana charts the life of his beloved grandmother, Nana Evelyn — and her decline from Alzheimer’s — through a critical reinvention of the photo album. The book features an array of images, including an archive of family photographs, contemporary photographs made by Harris, tipped-in recipe cards, and a mid-century advertisement for prefabricated homes. The snapshots chronicle moments from her childhood, marriage and family life, to the building of her home in Camden, NJ with her husband Bill. Evelyn’s kind and playful spirit is keenly felt in these images, her warmth radiating in a megawatt smile. Throughout the book, hand-written texts detail conversations between Harris and Evelyn, giving a voice to the shifting, intimate terrain of their relationship.
Did they ever call you Nana? 
I’m not Nana, I’m Evelyn.
Okay. Is it ok if I call you Nana? 
Banana?
No. Just Nana. 
Why?
Because. That’s what I’ve always called you. I’ve always called you Nana. 
Alright. Nana will be alright.

A photo album typically imagines the life of an individual or family as a linear, progressive story, marked by documenting rites of passage. Dispensing with chronological order, Harris wreaks havoc with the album’s narrative conventions. The photographs loop in affective rhythms that are deeply attuned to the contingencies of memory and the experience of grief. Everything feels present and departed at once. An archive, by definition, is always incomplete, subject to omission or loss, and Harris mines these blind spots with great resonance in his account of Evelyn’s life and illness.

Harris deftly interrogates the surfaces and meanings of photography’s materiality in canny juxtapositions of analog and digital imagery. The notion of witness shares space with invention and they are granted equal authority in the project of mourning.

The book’s dusty blue cover features a black and white, 1950s-era studio portrait of a Black woman affixed with photo corners. Reminiscent of a yearbook picture, her face breaks down from analog grain into crude, blocky pixelation. His attention to the vulnerability of photographs echoes Evelyn’s memory loss, as if to say a photograph is a body too: holding joy and sorrow, subject to the tolls of living, a reserve of history in the process of disappearing.

Forsaking fetishistic nostalgia, Harris places the soft, cracked surfaces of paper emulsion alongside digitally altered family photographs. Altered doesn’t convey the emotional impact of these photographs. They are wounded and they haunt: eyes are erased; heads decapitated; figures dissipate, repeat, and layer. These manipulated images correspond with a series of black-and-white portraits of Evelyn, where she appears as a ghost-like figure, doubled and disappearing. Photographed while eating a meal at a dining room table, Evelyn’s head vanishes, rendered a white orb-like aperture, during the camera’s lengthy exposure. This hole in the picture, another wound. I imagine Harris’ hands shaking while making the photographs, rattled by the nervous impulses of his own body, his subjects blurring.


Interspersed throughout the book are color photographs of his grandmother Irene’s Victorian house in Philadelphia, where he currently lives. The colors are muted — an apt melancholic palate — with moments of vivid color; a wall peeling strips of white and teal paint, its chips pooling on the floor. An analogue clock radio on a bedstand is caught mid-roll between 6:56 and 6:57. Family members are absent from these photographs, but traces of them are scattered throughout the ancestral home: a blue chambray dress hanging on a closet door; a framed photograph of Evelyn stationed on a dresser. It’s unclear whether we’re seeing details of Irene’s life or Evelyn’s or Harris’s. The images depict the present state of the house and hint at the vertiginous experience of remembrance within its walls. 

In his closing essay, Harris writes with devastating clarity, “I can truly say I know what it means to be forgotten.” You Can Call Me Nana ricochets between the temporal registers of loss across generations, staging memory on the fault lines of photography’s frailties.

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Laura Larson
is a photographer, writer, and teacher based in Columbus, OH. She's exhibited her work extensively, at such venues as Art in General, Bronx Museum of the Arts, Centre Pompidou, Columbus Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, SFCamerawork, and Wexner Center for the Arts and is held in the collections of Allen Memorial Art Museum, Deutsche Bank, Margulies Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Microsoft, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, New York Public Library, and Whitney Museum of American Art. Hidden Mother (Saint Lucy Books, 2017), her first book, was shortlisted for the Aperture-Paris Photo First Photo Book Prize. Larson is currently at work on a new book, City of Incurable Women (forthcoming from Saint Lucy Books) and a collaborative book with writer Christine Hume, All the                                                               Women I Know.
Book Review Known and Strange Things Pass Photographs by Andy Sewell Reviewed by Rodrigo Orrantia "Even before I first saw Andy Sewell's edit for this project I knew it was going to be quite an unconventional photobook. ‘What's this new project about?’ I asked him over the phone a few days before our meeting, keen to see what he was up to after the success of Something Like a Nest published in 2014. ‘It's about the Internet. And the ocean. [Long pause] It'll be best to show you so I can explain’..."

https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=CE004
Known and Strange Things Pass
Photographs by Andy Sewell

Skinnerboox, 2020. 192 pp., 9½x12½".

Even before I first saw Andy Sewell's edit for this project I knew it was going to be quite an unconventional photobook. ‘What's this new project about?’ I asked him over the phone a few days before our meeting, keen to see what he was up to after the success of Something Like a Nest published in 2014. ‘It's about the Internet. And the ocean. [Long pause] It'll be best to show you so I can explain’.

We met to look at an initial selection of images and talk about the ideas behind the project. In Known and Strange Things Pass there are two narrative strands working inextricably to create what I can best describe as a visual meditation: the idea that all the digital information of the Internet travels through a cable laid down across the ocean floor, and also the idea of time, from the instantaneous time of digital communication, to the slower, much more ancient time of the ocean.

In this first meeting I was interested to see how Sewell developed these two strands with his distinctive photographic style, and we talked about the big challenge of resolving the overall sequence and format of the book. Somehow he'd need to evidence how these two worlds coexist. On one hand there's the cable containing threads barely thicker than human hair, transporting digital information between two continents. And then there's also the Internet and the ocean as spaces and temporalities we can't really grasp. In Sewell's words: "the idea of it surprises me. It felt strange to think of the Internet as an object, as something tangible and concentrated through these cables. And I wanted to explore the way these vast, unknowable objects — the ocean and the internet — are physically as well as metaphorically entangled. To ask how they speak to each other, and to us?"

Looking at the first dummy and now the published book, I am excited to see how the various narrative strands were resolved through sequencing and design. Working together with designer Nicolas Polli, the layout breaks the limits of the page, using the white space of the unprinted paper to create pauses, to hint and extend the possible reading of the different sequences. The result is spatial — it gives us a sense of space, we see the shoreline at each end of the ocean, where the cable starts and ends — but also temporal, we can feel the slow sway of the ocean, in contrast to the instant of the phone text and the millisecond photographic exposure.


What I admire the most about Sewell's work is his fixation with surfaces, with what one can call the materiality of things. Looking back to The Heath (2012) and Something Like a Nest (2014) one can see how carefully he crafts his images, not just by observing the world in detail, but through this observation managing to imbue the mundane with a sense of sculptural timelessness. In Known and Strange Things Pass, Sewell furthers this search into the expressive potential of this materiality: he is enthralled by the surface of the water and the rocky cliffs by the sea, but also by smeared computer screens within the dark spaces of concrete rooms full of metal racks and cables.

The combination of these detailed observations with the particularly spatial layout allows me to get lost, wondering about the immensity of the ocean, but also of the Internet. Also thinking about time: I imagine the extended time of geology, against the seemingly instantaneous time of digital communication. This ungraspable vastness is best expressed in aesthetics through the idea of the sublime. The essay written by Eugenie Shinkle, which accompanies Sewell's book, talks about this concept, specifically about the digital sublime: we live with it every day, it is ever-present in the form of mobile phones and computers.


Sewell's Known and Strange Things Pass is a thoughtful commentary on the present moment, where human technology and invention appear alongside nature as a new type of sublimity, altering how we see and understand the world around us. Sewell shows how the dividing lines often placed between technology, culture and nature, are, upon closer observation, actually far more blurry, complicated, and permeable than we might at first assume.

Strange things are passing indeed.

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Rodrigo Orrantia
is an art historian and curator, specialised in photography.

His practice focuses on exhibition and publication projects, and critical writing . He is a regular speaker at Universities in the UK and France, and a reviewer and juror for international photography festivals and awards.

He is currently researching connections between photography, geography and place, with an interest in nature and its relationship with the urban/manmade/artificial environment.

                                                                               www.rodrigoorrantia.com


photo-eye Gallery Kate Breaky: New Orotones photo-eye Gallery
photo-eye Gallery is pleased to present three new beautiful orotones by Kate Breakey.

Kate Breakey, Octopus I, archival pigment ink on glass and 24kt gold leaf, 6" x 6," edition of 20, $1200

photo-eye Gallery is pleased to present three new beautiful orotones by Kate Breakey.

The luminescent glow of Kate Breakey’s orotones is a large part of their instant allure. These works, like Octopus I above, are made by printing images directly onto glass and then carefully applying 24 karat gold leaf behind the ink. They shimmer when directly lit and emanate a warm glow in subdued lighting. The contrast between the ink and gold backing, and the way light is reflected from the gold, creates a shifting, radiant presence that will thoroughly captivate any viewer.

Kate Breakey, Heron, Yucatun, archival pigment ink on glass and 24kt gold leaf, 8" x 8," edition of 20, $1400

Kate Breakey, Tulip Bud, archival pigment ink on glass and 24kt gold leaf, 8" x 6," edition of 20, $1200

* Prices for the above works include the frames

Like most of Breakey’s work, the orotones are editioned, and yet there is room for variance and individuality in each piece. Since each work is custom framed, and the gold leaf is applied by hand (like the embroidery and hand-applied color in her other works), no two images in an edition will be entirely identical. This makes each piece special, and function as a unique object.

To learn more about Kate Breakey and view her work, click on the links below.








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All prices listed were current at the time this post was published.


For more information, and to purchase prints, please contact Gallery Director Anne Kelly or Gallery Assistant Patricia Martin, or you may also call us at 505-988-5152 x202
Book Review Devil’s Promenade Photographs by Antone Dolezal & Lara Shipley Reviewed by Kyler Zeleny "Within the American Breadbasket exists a physiographic region called The Ozarks. Locals will tell you that within these mountains, covering sections of Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas and Missouri, resides the Devil. It is within the Ozarks, on a wooded gravel road, known affectionately and sinisterly as the Devil’s Promenade, that evil lurks. For decades this evil has revealed itself as a floating orb, also known as the Ozark Light or ‘spooklight’..."

Devil’s PromenadeBy Antone Dolezal & Lara Shipley.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=ZJ669
Devil’s Promenade
Photographs by Antone Dolezal & Lara Shipley

Overlapse, 2021. 152 pp., 104 illustrations, 6¾x9".

Within the American Breadbasket exists a physiographic region called The Ozarks. Locals will tell you that within these mountains, covering sections of Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas and Missouri, resides the Devil. It is within the Ozarks, on a wooded gravel road, known affectionately and sinisterly as the Devil’s Promenade, that evil lurks. For decades this evil has revealed itself as a floating orb, also known as the Ozark Light or ‘spooklight’.

Shipley and Dolezal tackle the folklore at the heart of this project in a fashion similar to Maria Lax’s Some Kind of Heavenly Fire, Amani Willett’s The Disappearance of Joseph Plummer, or Maja Daniels’ Elf Dalia, by applying mixed media to a form of elevated and layered storytelling.


The archival images — those blurry frames of old faces — blend well with the crisp images Shipley and Dolezal produce; a delicate dance that unfolds throughout the book. The skulls and snakes, they make sense, but some portraits at first allude… who are these faces past and present, and what is their bearing on this place, its dark undertones and these balls of light? But we must remember that there is no story of place without people. Well disguised, this is a book about the region, a narrative of rural America, told through folklore acting as a welcomed break from the plight-heavy approach of nearly all contemporary narratives on the subject.

My visual vocabulary of the Ozarks is scant, as a result, I borrow tropes from the American South — the mysticism and religious overtones that a thick brush can conjure. This isn’t much of a stretch, the European folklore that fuelled the idea of myth in Southern Appalachia has found its way to this region. Both Appalachia and the Ozarks are old frontier territories, partly enclosed and remote. Both have largely retained their bubble of wooded frontierism.

Some photobooks leave you with an idea (a rumination), others an emotion (a pathos). The best books do both. Devil’s Promenade does both. I feel structure. I feel dead eyes. I feel the wilderness swimming around my legs and towering Bois D’arc trees swaying overhead. The Ozarks are in the Mid-West, but you don’t feel it. This is something different. Elements of the occult linger and something feels off about the place.


Devil’s Promenade
speaks to an innate familiarity with the region, an emotive intrigue that also feels restrained and distanced. Like an old friend who you’ve left behind as you’ve grown, memory and fondness linger, but at the core… things have changed… you have changed. We glimpse this feeling in the portraits. They speak of a familiarity only the native sons and daughters of a region know, however, they are the derivative of closeness, they lack warmth. Intrigue is also present, a reverence for a place and time no longer wholly understood — the common outcome for those who leave and return.

The Ozarks are a hilled region, old mountains that have been ground down, offering little to the farmer, a blight on the boastful soils of America’s Breadbasket in which they firmly sit. This is a poor land for farmers, a poor land where a spectre haunts.

The orb is a hook. It is a distraction placed before us so that we may gaze upon the Ozarks and learn its unique folklore, identity, history, and struggles. The orb is intrigue, and it is metaphor. The orb is a proxy for the devil and aged fables about the devil lurking in the wild. The beast we should worry about is the one inside of us. As Lara Shipley writes, “we try to put the Devil in the woods to remove him from our bodies”.

How we interpret the orb depends on how we invite the idea of good and evil in. There are many ways to save a soul, you can bathe it in baptismal waters, you can suck out evil with a palm to one’s forehead and maybe, with the right intentions, you can gaze upon an orb on the Devil’s Promenade and feel cleansed. I also wonder, if we stopped talking about the orbs, stopped searching them out, would they disappear?

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Kyler Zeleny (1988) is a Canadian photographer, educator and author of Out West (2014), Found Polaroids (2017), and Crown Ditch & The Prairie Castle (2020). He holds a masters from Goldsmiths College, in Photography and Urban Cultures and a PhD from the joint Communication & Culture program at Ryerson and York University. His work has been exhibited internationally in twelve countries and has been featured in numerous publications including The Globe & Mail, Vice, The Washington Post, The Guardian, and The Independent. He occupies his time by exploring photography on the Canadian prairies.

Book Review Please Notify the Sun Photographs by Stephen Gill Reviewed by Odette England "The basis of Stephen Gill’s latest photobook Please Notify the Sun marks a similar first: to catch a fish and photograph it from the inside out. And here’s the first of many catches: Gill must catch said fish. No popping to the shops to buy the catch-of-the-day, no shortcuts. A task easier said than done, especially when you start mentally working your way through the equipment, determination, patience, and hearty helping of good luck required..."

Please Notify the Sun by Stephen Gill.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=ZJ581
Please Notify the Sun
Photographs by Stephen Gill

Nobody Books, 2020. 168 pp., 111 color illustrations, 8½x10¾".

Odette fish, Mother’s Day, May 16, ‘81.

Mom’s cursive handwriting in blue biro on the back of a color snapshot. I am cradling my first fish, caught on a crude rod of sorts, a 1970s glass Coke bottle with yards of line wrapped around its base. It’s a Murray River carp, an invasive mud-loving species which cannot legally be returned to the water alive. Pop made the photograph, which explains the framing; he was notorious for cutting off heads with his camera. Moments later, my first fish is also headless thanks to dad’s knife and tossed into the air for our cats to fight over.

Firsts are big in life, and especially in amateur photography. First child, first birthday, first car, first kiss, and first graduation. Their uniqueness and how we save and protect them via photography, memory, and orality ensures they last. In Snapshot Versions of Everyday Life (Popular Press, 2008) Richard Chalfen writes: “There are good reasons why people take more pictures of their children when they are very young than when they are older, why parents take more pictures of their first born than later children, why family albums contain more pictures related to births than deaths, to achievements rather than defeats or disappointments”.

The basis of Stephen Gill’s latest photobook Please Notify the Sun marks a similar first: to catch a fish and photograph it from the inside out. And here’s the first of many catches: Gill must catch said fish. No popping to the shops to buy the catch-of-the-day, no shortcuts. A task easier said than done, especially when you start mentally working your way through the equipment, determination, patience, and hearty helping of good luck required. Oh, and that Gill takes it on during the Covid-19 pandemic and knowing that he is, in his own words, “really unskilled at fishing”.

According to Nobody Books, the publishing imprint Gill established in 2005 to market and sell his photobooks, he made nine trips and spent thirty hours before finally landing his catch, helped by his daughters Ada and Ylva to whom Gill dedicates the book. The date was April 10, 2020 at 17:32, which Gill texted to his friend and neighbor Karl Ove Knausgår – who wrote the accompanying essay – with these details: Sea Trout, 2.4 kg/62 cm, coordinates 55.5004 Latitude / 14.3289 Longitude. Over the next ten weeks, Gill photographed his sea trout every day using a specialized camera, microscope, and lighting.

There’s a lot to take in here; many questions form before getting to the fish pictures. Mostly though I think about the experiences of a father and his children on a quest to catch a fish. The planning, the excitement. The rugging-up needed to withstand the cold weather, evidenced by the black and white photographs of Ada and Ylva that bookend the story. The waiting, oh the waiting. The conversations, the transfer of familial knowledge, the many questions a father might pose to pass the time including, “What do you think the inside of a fish looks like?” More waiting, snacking, looking for sticks. The inevitable reassurance: Better-luck-next-time. The chin-scratching, the big breathy sighs into the air. Was that a bite, a nibble? Did you see that, that, THAT! That flick of silver…? Going to bed, staring at the ceiling asking: Lucky trip number 7, 8, 9?


I think too about the inclusion of scientific data in Gill’s text message to Knausgår. The exact location of where the fish was caught, its species, weight, and length. These function like a photograph, a record that has utility, authority, and classification. A record of life and death.

Before turning the pages, I ask my daughter Hepburn what she thinks the inside of a fish looks like. “Blurry, lots of red spots, lots of other dots, maybe some different colors too, like some big cans of paint fell on the ground”. She’s right. There are more than 100 color images, all the same size, of the inside of Gill’s sea trout. The only sequencing rule that stands out is a loose following of the principles and elements of design: line, shape, color, form, texture, space, and contrast. Some sections look redder than others, some more cavernous. Hepburn and I spend an afternoon sharing what we see in each image: a landscape, blood vessels, flower petals, shark’s teeth, a sheep’s heart, coral, lava, a tongue, stars, honey, a volcano, Mars, scars, termite mounds, mud puddles, ice, the moon, coffee, tinsel, an upside-down shadow, granite, a lychee, mold, dust, the Titanic, Jell-O, glue, a spider’s web… and on we go. Anything but the inside of a fish. And yet, the images look exactly how we imagine them to look. Not one thing or another. Everything and nothing.


Marvin Heiferman, in his excellent book Seeing Science: How Photography Reveals the Universe (Aperture / UMBC, 2019) points out: “Even today, researchers and clinicians need to be trained to not only look carefully at what they anticipate seeing, but also to scan for unexpected data or relationships that might, upon reflection, turn out to be of significance.” This helps to convey one of the many aspects that make Gill’s images compelling: they ask the viewer to carefully observe the layers within, the assortment of crannies and crevices despite their inherent flatness. Granted this can be a challenge with abstract photography, but I borrow from the author Lyle Rexer to note that with Gill’s images we are looking at both a visible reality and a suggestion of reality. There is what we see, what we perceive, as well as our emotional response and interpretation.

As with most of Gill’s photobook offerings, Please Notify the Sun is handsomely constructed and printed, forming part of a themed trilogy with The Pillar and Night Procession. A tighter edit of fifty images would have worked equally well. The supplementary saddle-stitch booklet with Knausgår’s essay The Spirit of Place is delightful, with its sun-colored cover and murky-water-colored pages.

The recurrent after-image that stays with me is the first one after the title page, where the sea trout’s eye meets mine. A hello and a goodbye, an exchange of death and life, of still and moving. It continues to haunt me, though now accompanied by the American rock band Soundgarden’s song Black Hole Sun. I can’t switch it off. The band’s lead singer Chris Cornell once said in an interview: “A black hole is a billion times larger than a sun, it’s a void, a giant circle of nothing, and then you have the sun, the giver of all life. It was this combination of bright and dark, this sense of hope and underlying moodiness.”

Indeed: a fish’s eye is no match for the size and weight of our sun, yet its power lies in how much it can see through its rounded cornea. It offers an almost 360-degree field of view, unlike we humans, who are limited to about half that amount. I imagine Gill staring longingly into this black hole, diving in headfirst with hope. In doing so Gill reveals the lights and darks, the shapes and shadows of all that neither we nor the sun can appreciate without his childlike inquisitiveness, his great love of picture-making, and his unrelenting belief in the power and wisdom of the photographic unseen.

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Odette England is an artist and writer; an Assistant Professor and Artist-in-Residence at Amherst College in Massachusetts; and a resident artist of the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts Studio Program in New York. Her work has shown in more than 90 solo, two-person, and group exhibitions worldwide. England’s first edited volume Keeper of the Hearth was published by Schilt Publishing (2020), with a foreword by Charlotte Cotton. Radius Books will publish her second book Past Paper // Present Marks in collaboration with the artist Jennifer Garza-Cuen in spring 2021 including essays by Susan Bright, David Campany, and Nicholas Muellner.
photo-eye Gallery Virtual Walk-Through with Steve Fitch photo-eye Gallery
This week, as part of our video series photo-eye Conversations, Gallery Director Anne Kelly joins Steve Fitch for an online view of his exhibition Steve Fitch: American Motel Signs 1980–2018.

Steve Fitch, Socorro, New Mexico, July, 1983, archival pigment print, 15" x 15," $650

This week, as part of our video series photo-eye Conversations, Gallery Director Anne Kelly joins Steve Fitch for an online view of his exhibition Steve Fitch: American Motel Signs 1980–2018.

In this fun walk-through, Anne speaks at length with the artist about the practice and process behind his book American Motel Signs II 1980–2018, which inspired the current exhibition. Do not miss this lively interview on Vimeo or below!
 

  
 

» View the Exhibition

 
 
"The signs I photographed are all one-of-a-kind, designed and fabricated by local sign shops that employed skilled craftsmen such as metal workers, neon benders and painters. They were signs found mostly along our country's two-lane highways before the onslaught of motel franchises with the exact same sign at dozens or hundreds of locations throughout the country. All Motel 6 signs, for example, are identical, whereas the signs that I discover and like to photograph are each unique — there is only one.  In some ways, they are like folk art to me."
— Steve Fitch
 
Steve Fitch, Albuquerque, New Mexico, August, 1980, archival pigment print, 15" x 15," $650

Steve Fitch, Beresford, South Dakota, June, 1982, archival pigment print, 15" x 15," $650


Steve Fitch, Custer, South Dakota, July, 1999, archival pigment print, 15" x 15," $650
 
 
 
 
 
 
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All prices listed were current at the time this post was published.


For more information, and to purchase prints, please contact Gallery Director Anne Kelly or Gallery Assistant Patricia Martin, or you may also call us at 505-988-5152 x202
 
Book Review Todd Webb in Africa Outside the Frame Reviewed by InHae Yap "In 1958, mid-century street photographer Todd Webb (1905-2000) was commissioned by the United Nations to document “the progress of industry and technology" in what were then eight different African nations, either recently independent or about to become so. Thames & Hudson has now released a large selection of the resulting works in Todd Webb in Africa: Outside the Frame, edited by Aimée Bessire and Erin Hyde Nolan..."

https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=TH103
Todd Webb in Africa
Outside the Frame

Thames & Hudson, London, UK., 2021. 256 pp., 10x12".

In 1958, mid-century street photographer Todd Webb (1905-2000) was commissioned by the United Nations to document “the progress of industry and technology" in what were then eight different African nations, either recently independent or about to become so. Thames & Hudson has now released a large selection of the resulting works in Todd Webb in Africa: Outside the Frame, edited by Aimée Bessire and Erin Hyde Nolan.

It is an admittedly hefty book, measuring 10” x 12”, but its size allows us to take in fully the quality of Webb’s images, blown up almost full to the page. Included are a handful of black-and-white images, but the book is mostly composed of full-color photographs. Off the bat, the book is interesting for this fact alone, as Webb rarely ventured outside his preferred medium of black-and-white. The publication is doubly exciting because these images were never exhibited within Webb’s lifetime, beyond a short brochure from the UN: the full archive was only recently recovered in a collector’s basement, nearly sixty years after its creation.

The book is organized by region, divided into chapters whose order mimics Webb’s travels through Togo, Ghana, Sudan, the Trust Territory of Somalia, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and Southern Rhodesia (now Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe), Tanganyika and Zanzibar (now merged as Tanzania), and Kenya. The names of these federations, protectorates, and nations, many now unfamiliar, reflect the decades-long process of decolonization, of which Webb captured merely a snapshot in 1958. Within this transitioning political landscape, Webb takes us through the ephemera of the everyday. We see people waiting for the train, mothers walking with their children along asphalt roads, cocoa growers spraying pesticide and raising seedlings, fishermen on the beach, schoolboys at the shops — all rendered richly in color.

© 2021 Todd Webb Archive
Todd Webb,
Untitled (44UN-8002-165), Togoland (Togo), 1958.
Attendant at Texaco station. 


The accompanying texts, however, are where the book truly shines. Its eleven contributors include writers, historians, photographers, and artists, all of whom hail from the countries depicted, or at the very least are scholars working within these regions. Together, they investigate at every turn the motivations and limitations of Webb’s perspective — namely, that of a white American traveling through Africa on behalf of the United Nations. They go “outside the frame” to raise questions about visualizing postcolonial Africa, namely its complex sociopolitical matrix of power relations, racial dynamics, imperialism, and industry.

© 2021 Todd Webb Archive
Todd Webb, Untitled (44UN-7916-069), Togoland (Togo), 1958.
Loading people and goods at Lomé harbor.
Many contributors proclaim the beauty of the images, while also expressing various degrees of ambivalence towards them. On the one hand, Webb’s work far surpasses the primitivist tropes that have long troubled visualizations of Africa. As a result of his assignment, his eye was drawn more to Texaco gas station attendants and oilrig laborers than to thatched roofs and bare-breasted village women (though these are also photographed). Webb’s journals even reveal his distaste for those expatriates and colonial officials who had “seen and been taken in by too many Hollywood films.” In sum, as Bessire writes, these images “attempt to define the possibilities of a new narrative of Africa through their construction of a modern order presenting development and civilization.”

Attempt, of course, is the keyword here: we must also recognize that Webb’s UN assignment was made to visualize Africa as “modern” only in the sense those in the global North would consider it so. And Webb, while leery of exoticizing Africa, was not fully beyond romanticizing the continent. He wrote that Southern Rhodesia was too close to American life to be true “African,” whereas by contrast “Togo and Tanganyika are the best Africa so far.” The “best” Africa was something defined vaguely as feeling not too modern — rather ironic, given the terms of his assignment.

© 2021 Todd Webb Archive
Todd Webb, Untitled (44UN-7890-241), border of
Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Southern Rhodesia
(Zimbabwe), 1958. Contours cut through the
Zambezi River basin to create the Kariba Dam.
His narrative of “progress” can also be sharply bittersweet in retrospect. Examining Webb’s sunlit images of mining camps and power plants in Southern Rhodesia, Gary Van Wyk explains that 1958 was the halfway point through the Federation’s uneasy existence. He cannot read these images without a sense of foreboding: “I know what is coming. The Bush War. But first the Federation will fail.” He sees with apprehension, knowing what is to come and what has passed — the rising political tension, the coming civil war, and the Mugabe regime.

Through their own intimate knowledge of these places, the authors also easily see what is not pictured. For instance, there are no images of Nyasaland, also part of the Federation, as its natural beauty was at odds with the industrial views needed for Webb’s assignment. Indeed, of the few landscapes in the book, most feature images of extraction and waste, or shipping yards and docks within sparkling blue waters. Hyde Nolan observes that Webb’s reverence for natural landscapes, inherited from his teacher Ansel Adams, sits uneasily alongside unseen histories of displacement, ecological disturbance, and grueling labor. Between the monochrome of vast topographies and mechanized technologies, there is little space for the human element. “The possibility of one world,” as Van Wyk writes, “entails the expulsion of the other.”

© 2021 Todd Webb Archive
Todd Webb,
Untitled (44UN-7776-038), Ghana, 1958
Spraying pesticide on cocoa crop. 


Emphasizing such tensions does not detract from Webb’s images, but rather enlivens them further. Webb’s portraits of various individuals he met are particularly fascinating in this regard. In her essay, Rehema Chachage notes how Webb’s image of a Tanganyika policeman, standing under the sun with a phone to his ear, feels distinctly awkward. His smile is slightly confused, his grip on the phone tense. But the gap between photographer and subject makes for an extraordinarily gripping image, perhaps more so than if they had been fully at ease with this strange American photographer.

© 2021 Todd Webb Archive
Todd Webb, Untitled (44UN-7930-609), Trust Territory of
Somaliland (Somalia), 1958. Two women walking on the
beach, with a dog to their right.
The book takes an abrupt turn away from the scholarly with its concluding contribution from Emmanuel Iduma. The Nigerian novelist takes images from Webb’s travels as a starting point for nine corresponding short stories, briefly imagining the lives beyond the camera, among them the New York graduate student who sends portraits to her husband back home, the man at a train station wondering if his estranged father stands among the faceless crowd, and the artists stuck at the Sudan-Ethiopia border with single-entry visas. Iduma’s stories rhyme beautifully with Webb’s images, creating loving portrayals of travel, loss, hope, and migration, which are poignantly short as they are fictional. Or, perhaps, not so fictional — but that is not for us to know. In this sense, Iduma, more than any other contributor, imbues Webb’s subjects with an elusive agency that makes them subjects with true independence, rather than passive subjects under Webb’s lens: ultimately, they surpass even the imagination.

What makes the archive so fascinating for these contributors is also what made the UN rather uninterested in the majority of Webb’s work. These images contain complex ambiguity, reflecting locals’ own questions and uncertainty about the future. From Webb’s staggering 170 rolls of film, only twenty-two were published in a short seven-page brochure, “United Nations Photos, Supplement No. 7,” with these vibrant color negatives flatly printed in black and white.

The new anthology finally does justice to the depth of Webb’s images. From the perspective of Africans looking at a non-African looking at Africans, these seemingly straightforward documentary images are imbued with new insights and nuance. Todd Webb in Africa is a powerful contribution to a growing body of visual scholarship that underscores how a photograph always, always, exceeds its intention.

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All images Courtesy of Thames & Hudson.

Todd Webb in Africa: Outside the Frame
Todd Webb in Africa: Outside the Frame

InHae Yap is a researcher whose work explores shared themes, questions, and histories between photography and anthropology. Her writing has appeared in photo-eye, Strange Fire Collective, and Critical Interventions, among other publications. She is currently based in New York.