Archive: October, 2009
Every Wednesday, Critical Mass pops into a neighborhood and finds its most stylish residents.
This week I took a step out into City Paper's backyard, between Second and Third and Market and Chestnut streets, in search of fashionable Philadelphians. As the temperature dropped, I found these Old City dwellers accessorizing with colorful scarves, tights and hats. This first stylish dude, David B., made his own jewelry with recycled forks and a finger cymbal called a 'zill.'
David B., 37, artist/musician
Favorite Way to Accessorize: "Jewelry made from recycled items such as forks and finger cymbals."
|Photo | Nicole Saylor|
Angela O., 22, student
Favorite Brands: 'Urban Renewal and Steve Madden."
|Photo | Nicole Saylor|
Zofia W., 24, teacher
Fashion Philosophy: 'I just pick things up that I like as I see them, sometimes from garage sales.'
|Photo | Nicole Saylor|
|We did not put this paper in her hand. Swear.|
Jennifer K., 29, student
Favorite Place to Shop: 'Decades, Vintage Connection and thrift stores.'
|Photo | Nicole Saylor|
Ric D., 24, student
Fashion Philosophy: 'My girlfriend usually dresses me. Fashion is very important to her.'
|Photo | Nicole Saylor|
passed away at the age of 82. Born in 1927 and coming of age at 15th and Tasker (according to the Inky obit), Martino was supposed to enter the family bricklaying business but chose the crooner's life instead. His biggest hit was 1965's "Spanish Eyes."
When Mario Puzo wrote The Godfather, the role of pretty boy pop singer Johnny Fontane was widely thought to be based on Frank Sinatra, who supposedly got the role of Pvt. Angelo Maggio in From Here to Eternity because of mob muscle (for the record, Sinatra is fabulous as Angelo "Only My Friends Can Call Me a Little Wop!" Maggio and it reinvigorated his then-stalled career, so the mob can't be all bad). According to an excellent Vanity Fair article on the making of The Godfather, Martino got the part after he contacted producer Al Ruddy on the suggestion of Phyllis McGuire, a member of the McGuire Sisters and mob moll of Sam Giancana, who said Fontane was Martino. Coppola didn't even want Martino, instead choosing Vic Damone, but Damone dropped out before production started (as legend goes, real Dons said that Fontane was a sanctioned pick, while Damone was not). But McGuire was right about the similarities between Martino and Fontane. According to the VF article:
Once he'd been through all that, Martino says, what was a movie director to stand in his way? He shows me a picture of himself with Puzo, Coppola, Ruddy, and some casino bosses in Vegas, all with their arms around one another, on their way to a party'complete with showgirls, 'the works''the singer says he threw at a cost of $20,000 to convince Coppola that he was the right choice for the Johnny Fontane role. When that didn't solidify the deal, he took a course of action that could have come from the movie. 'Didn't the Don send Tom Hagen to convince [studio head] Jack Woltz that Johnny Fontane must be in the movie?' he asks. 'Isn't it similar to what I did? Woltz didn't want Johnny, and Coppola didn't want me. There was no horse's head, but I had ammunition.' I had to step on some toes to get people to realize that I was in the effing movie. I went to my godfather, Russ Bufalino,' he says, referring to the East Coast crime boss.Read the rest the story here. The Fontane part isn't huge, but it's pivotal. Without Fontane, there would be no horse's head scene and that great exchange between Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) and the slimy studio head (via the IMDB character page):
Tom Hagen: I come from a personal friend of Mr Johnny Fontane. That friend promises his undying friendship if you would do him a small favour. Jack Woltz: What's that? Tom Hagen: Give Johnny a part in that war movie you're starting next week. [Woltz signs a document with a smile and walks away, Hagen alongside him] Jack Woltz: And what favours does this friend promise in exchange for giving Johnny the part? Tom Hagen: You've got some labour trouble coming up. My client promises to make that trouble disappear. You have a top star who makes a lot of money, but he just graduated from marijuana to heroin... Jack Woltz: [all East Side now] Are you trying to muscle me? Tom Hagen: Absolutely not. I've come to ask a service for a friend... Jack Woltz: Now you listen to me, you smooth-talking son-of-a-bitch, let me lay it on the line for you and your boss, whoever he is! Johnny Fontane will never get that movie! I don't care how many dago guinea wop greaseball goombahs come out of the woodwork! Tom Hagen: I'm German-Irish. Jack Woltz: Well, let me tell you something, my kraut-mick friend, I'm gonna make so much trouble for you, you won t know what hit you! Tom Hagen: Mr. Woltz, I'm a lawyer. I have not threatened you. Jack Woltz: I know almost every big lawyer in New York, who the hell are you? Tom Hagen: I have a special practice. I handle one client. Now you have my number, I'll wait for your call. By the way, I admire your pictures very much.It's a pivotal scene in which the true power of the Corleone family is laid out for all to see. Not only do they have a hand in the salacious and illegal, but the seemingly legitimate as well. Here, Martino sings "Speak Softly Love," the love theme from The Godfather (Martino sings it at Connie's wedding):
Bruce Springsteen began his final run at the Spectrum stage last night, opening with "Seaside Bar Song," a 1973 rarity. Watch the vid from YouTube user nolanrose1 below (it's really shaky but the audio is good, so just pump up the volume and listen to the tune):
To commemorate Bruce's B-Day back in September, excellent time wasting blog Mental Floss wrote out an extensive list of 60 Springsteen factoids. My Springsteen crew and I read these aloud to each other while we tailgated at one of the Giants Stadium shows. So in honor of Bruce's Spectrum stand (including one tonight, and ones next Monday and Tuesday), here are the Philly related facts from their massively good list (be sure to #15, too, it's a doozy):
19. When Bruce tells us that 'they blew up the Chicken Man in Philly last night' in 'Atlantic City,' he's referring to Phil Testa, the underboss of the Philadelphia crime family under Angelo Bruno. Bruno was killed in 1980, and Testa, who got his nickname from his involvement in a poultry business, succeeded him as don of the family. His nine-month reign ended when conspirators in the family placed a nail bomb under his porch and detonated it when he walked out the front door.
24. In May 1977, Bruce and Steve Van Zandt went to an Elvis Presley concert in Philadelphia. A few days later Bruce wrote 'Fire,' and allegedly sent a demo of the song to Presley that summer, hoping he might cover it. Whether the tape got sent or not, Presley died that August and Bruce wound up giving 'Fire' to Robert Gordon. Gordon's version of the song was covered by the The Pointer Sisters who made it a hit in 1979.
25. The Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts in Philadelphia, where Ben Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack and Frederick Douglass' diaries have been preserved, recently prepared some Springsteen-abilia'including dozens of notebooks containing everything from lyrics to tour information and a to-do list that lists 'extra garage door openers''for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum exhibit 'From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen.' Best item: an orange composition book with lines on the cover for the owner to fill in a name, address, and subject. The spaces read: 'Bossinheimer Jones / Cool Street / Your Mama.'
They also give big ups to the XPN's Springsteen tribute that we told you about way back when (And hey! at the bottom of the special thanks! Is that PW's/Bruce superfan Erica Palan? Hey, Erica!).
SPOILER ALERT: Check back later today when our new issue goes live for a review of Clarence Clemon's new memoir Big Man: Real Life & Tall Tales and check back next week for an interview with the Minister of Soul himself. Jealous? You should be. But you, too, can get some Big Man face time when he signs copies of his book on Sun., Oct. 18 at 1:00 p.m. at Chester County Books & Music, 975 Paoli Pike Rd., West Chester, PA.
And just to get your Boss rocks off one more time, here's last night's hand printed set list:
|Click to view larger|
So, here it is: The final bow of an actor taken before his time, aka, Heath Ledger's last role. Posthumous movie releases can be both a blessing a curse, although they usually never tarnish the reputation of the deceased celeb. James Dean did the most iconic work of his career in Rebel Without a Cause and Giant, released a month and 13 months after his death, respectively. While Raul Julia's last bash on the screen before succumbing to cancer was in Street Fighter.
What's interesting about this trailer is that there's no mention of the actors ' Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell ' who eventually took over Ledger's part when he passed away before filming could be completed. Understandably, it would be difficult to the explain their roles in the film without completely dismantling the verisimilitude of the storyline, especially in a minutes-long trailer, but I'd figure producers at least wanted to get some star wattage out of them.
But Ledger doesn't interest me so much. The Dark Knight will always be Ledger's swan song and whether he's good in this or not is not the point. I'm interested in both Tom Waits as the devil (AMAZING casting) and model-turned-actor Lily Cole, who looks like she should be in a Henry Selick movie. Or a Terry Gilliam one.
THE CURATOR: Shmitten Kitten at Ignite Philly 4, Kevin Smith portraits, giving windows love, Nancy Spungen's burial, Fishtown Pearl Necklace
' After three successful Shmitten Kitten Mixtape Speed Dating events (and clever blog posts like last week's mini-rant on the glory of receiving a true-blue, US Postal Service-sent letter), it's fitting that Kitten-in-Chief Anna Goldfarb says she'll be speaking at tonight's Ignite Philly 4, where locals will strut their start-up stuff. May sound like a snooze, but it's at Johnny Brenda's, and Goldfarb's promise of a presentation that combines 'your middle-school class picture laser backdrop' with the Gettysburg Address should help.
' Philly illustrators' collective The Autumn Society posted a cheeky piece by UArts Grad Danielle Rizzolo ' specifically, her portrait of Kevin Smith as a 'Fat Kenickie.' She created it for L.A.'s Gallery 1988 (which is quite shmitten itself with The Autumn Society's 8-bit repertoire) to include in its upcoming Smod Art Show.
' Philly's a pretty friendly place, whether in regards to the guy with the snake at Market and 9th who asks if I'd like to take a picture or the current takeover of the 'With Love, Philadelphia XOXO' signage. Uwishunu reports that a variety of artists will give 50 more windows in Old City more love. Today's the last day to vote for your favorite.
' In other odd music news, Philebrity wrote about the cat-fight between Fishie hipster dwellings Kung Fu Necktie and Barbary, and then dually noted that they shouldn't be wasting blog posts on such things (but it's the Internet, so why not?). According to the commenting public at large, the Barbary is 'unbearably stinky' and Kung Fu Necktie's street name is 'Fishtown Pearl Necklace' ' don't know who wins there.
Have you seen our native daughter Marie Ulmer's "Tell All" exhibit at Gallery 817 (333 S. Broad St., 215-717-6495), which closes tomorrow? It's a retrospective of one of Philly's loveliest artists, who is now 92 years old and kickin'. Born in Fishtown, Ulmer has been labeled all sorts of things ' a "vegetable," a "depressive" ' but went on to attend the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Design (now known as UArts), and graduate with an illustration degree.
She later become an illustrator for the Free Library for 30 years, and worked privately throughout that time. The retrospective features mostly illustrations and paintings from her younger years, which examine womanhood and girlhood, frightening dreams, fairy tales and expectations of femininity.
Click the jump to see one of Ulmer's stranger, creepier works.
It's game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals, halfway through the third period. The Flyers and I are down 3-1 to the Red Wings. It's desperation time. We need goals fast or everything we've worked for all season long will have been for nothing.
And then the coach sends in Riley Cote. For a three-minute shift.
Like all of its ancestors, NHL 10 (EA Sports) takes great pains to simulate the swirling chaos of professional hockey in video game form. They recreate the real world arenas, map the players' faces and assign ratings for everybody on just about everything (shot power, aggression, etc.). This year's evolutionary steps includes that thing players do where their arms are tied up so they kick the puck along the boards, and more realistic post-whistle shoving matches.
Things have come a long way since Sega 94, when Jeremy Roenick's shot was unstoppable and Pavel Bure could deke the pants off an entire team. These days the great players are still great, but they're not gods. And, thanks to some kinda A.I.-ish function, opposing teams' defenses can adapt to your playing style. There are some moves that work, but there's no The Move that always equals a goal.
But there are still those dumbass moments that do not resemble real hockey in the slightest. ...
Like Riley Cote taking the ice in any kind of relevant post-season moment. Or a winger dumping a puck into the corner instead of firing it on net during the waning seconds of a third period. Or a center eschewing the opportunity to saucer pass to a charging teammate in favor of rocketing the puck some 200 feet along the boards to his own defensive end.
These things have always happened, counter-instinctual anomalies, stupid idiosyncrasies, bizarre glitches in the matrix that remind you, yeah, this ain't real hockey.
But whatever. If you wanted to play in the NHL, you shoulda been born in Ontario and skated out of the womb. And NHL 10 has enough settings options ' including line changes controls to prevent Riley Cote from popping up where he doesn't belong ' to help smooth out some of the rough spots. And of course it looks amazing, with smooth-ish gameplay simulations. (Still has that bizarre unblinking zombie-pig facial amalgamation when you see a player up close. It's funny.) Unfortunately, like NHL 2K09, this game assumes you've got some kind of monstrous HD plasma death star screen; the clocks, the scoreboards and everything else appear so tiny on my average-sized TV screen as to be utterly unreadable. Seriously. I have to pause it to check the score. Eh, you get used to it.
I ended up losing the Cup, and I blame it entirely on my virtual coaches in whom I entrusted my shift changes. But, to be honest, I really didn't deserve to be a world f. champion yet anyway. Game 1 of the Finals was also game one of my NHL 10 career. There's no sense in being too realistic.
In conjunction with Design Philadelphia (which we covered in the Oct. 1, 2009, edition of City Paper), First Person Arts and InLiquid present the Welcome House, a 10-foot cube in which artists of all stripes settle in for a day and create. It's open-ended, inventive and often pretty wacky (we're talking knit-yourself-into-a-cocoon wacky). Our intrepid reporter Cristina Perachio's been at the House all week, observing, taking photos and reporting back.
|Photo | Cristina Perachio|
When I visited the Welcome House Friday, on an unusually warm October afternoon, the 10-foot cube was partially covered in orange, stenciled squares that reminded me of a kindergarten classroom. Maybe it was the bright colors, the way they were haphazardly stuck to the cube or the way the stencils seemed to be at totally random angles on the page. Whatever it was, it made me want to play tag, fingerprint or participate in a good ol' fashioned show-and-tell.
For the sixth day of the Welcome House free-form art festivities, Mary Tasillo and Michelle Wilson spent the day creating LOVE Park- and Welcome House-themed works on handmade paper with the crowd in the park. They used small screens to sift out the wet, pulpy orange mixture and then painted the sheets using stencils. The most popular stencils were the LOVE Park sign along with a bench and the word "welcome" in several different languages.'
|Photo | Cristina Perachio|
There were several skateboard-themed designs created by skaters scorned, but most of the designs looked like Rorschach inkblots in Crayola brights. This caught the attention of every 6-year-old in a four-block radius of the park.
There were two works, sitting side by side on the cube, that caught my eye. The one on the left was hung vertically and had a blue LOVE Park sign over a red bench with the words "casa" and "house" framing the word "safe"; the one on the right was hung horizontally and had a blue house and red bench with the word "house" written along the bottom in green and the word "safe" punctuated by a giant red question mark stenciled across the top.' The question mark gave the whole picture a look both daunting and unsure. I wonder if they were referring to the Welcome House itself, like so many other pictures created that day, or if it referred instead to the home of the artist.
|Courtesy of Varga Bar|
Our Critical Mass intern dishes on what it was like to be a Varga pin-up girl, after being selected by Varga Bar for its 2010 calendar. Interested? They're still accepting submissions.
It must have started with Bettie Boop. The pin-curled hair, the red lips, the long dress with the big slit ' or, thinking about it now, perhaps it was Jessica Rabbit? Either way, I grew up idolizing that old Hollywood style, and once I was too old for cartoons it was a different kind of illustration that caught my eye: pin-up portraits by Alberto Vargas, a Peruvian-born artist who glorified the American girl most notably in Esquire in the '40s and later in Playboy.
The Varga girls' ethereal, glowing sex appeal comes from their innocence, confidence and humor. Varga Bar (941 Spruce St., 215-627-5200), which opened in May, uses Vargas' art to decorate the cozy restaurant. The vintage-themed d'cor, complete with kitschy black-and-white tile, is centered around a handful of Varga girls painted over the bar.
But Restaurateur George Anni wanted to incorporate real, local women into the bar's theme. So he and Philly-based photographer Christopher Gabello launched the Make Me a Varga Girl contest this September. They set out to find 12 local women to be transformed into modern-day Varga girls for a 2010 calendar. 'We've received hundreds of submissions so far,' says Kate Ryan, Gabello's managing agent. 'We've had a really good response and girls are still contacting us.'
I entered a few weeks ago, and soon after, Ryan asked me to be a part of the calendar. Two days later, I arrived at Ettore Salon at 12th and Market streets to have my hair and make-up done for the shoot at Gabello's Center City studio. Owner Ettore Mastroddi welcomed me to the salon, but I could tell by a quick flinch that something was wrong. As I sat down with the hairstylist I could hear Ettore, just a few feet away, complaining that my hair was too short and it didn't go with Vargas' style. I shot a dumbfounded glance up at the hairstylist who, with a look of disgust, rolled her eyes and shook her head. 'Don't worry about him," she assured me.
After a quick battle with the owner about the hair extensions that were not going on my head, Ettore changed his tune when Gabello showed him one of my favorite Varga gals in a black leotard and tutu with short blond curls. Then Ettore was all smiles, and so was I, after an hour of hair and makeup complete with faux lashes and my favorite red lipstick. Ryan met me at the salon and took me by cab about five blocks (couldn't ruin the hair, of course) over to Gabello's studio at 15th and Sansom streets. Gabello and his assistant, Inna, greeted us at the small, ground floor studio. The shoot was to be styled with clothes from vintage-inspired Smak Parlor in Olde City, and the team led me to the rack of clothing. 'And here's everything from Smak Parlor!' said Gabello.
Where? I thought as I looked at the bare clothing rack strewn with a few scarves, nighties, undies and a pink silk robe that looked like a parka next to the rest of the attire. Damn. 'There's a bunch of accessories too,' offered Ryan. Well, maybe I could cover up with some oversized clip-on earrings? After reassurance from the team and a pep talk I prepared for myself, I put on my first outfit and prayed if I smiled big enough, no one would notice what I was or wasn't wearing. I grew up doing theater and tried to just pretend I was playing a part of one of the energetic Varga gals I admire. This was a bit of a challenge with Gabello's Radiohead playlist that could lull a rabid animal to sleep. But after the first few shots, I began to feel more comfortable and the team chatted and laughed through the next few outfit changes.
We played around with a few different poses and looks right out of the Alberto Varga book Gabello had in his studio. The shoot flew by and after a couple hours of cheesy smiles and pretending to know what I was doing, I was back in my street clothes wondering how I was going to make it to the subway without getting beat up with my hair and 20 pounds of makeup straight out of 1940. After Gabello sent me the proofs, I picked a handful of photos that I liked and thought were the most true to the Varga girl style. He'll do some Photoshop magic to make it look like the photos are illustrations, adding that glowing quality to them. The Varga Bar calendar will emulate the design of the old Esquire magazine calendars complete with a little poem next to the pin-up (such as 'June finds me asking daisies, if he loves or loves me not. They told me if he didn't that the moron should be shot!') The calendar will debut in December with a release party at Varga Bar and the 12 photos will be displayed in the bar.
Check out the Web site for more information.
City Paper welcomes Jonathan Wallis, assistant professor of art history at Moore College of Art and Design, to our Critical Mass team. His column, 'Perspective,' will run monthly in this space, bringing a critical eye to a visual art scene that continues to thrive in Philadelphia. Questions? E-mail Wallis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Nicholas with Mom and Milo, by Jessica Todd Harper|
One hundred and twelve years ago, pioneering photographer Gertrude K'sebier lectured to an audience gathered to view her exhibition at the Photographic Society of Philadelphia. Known for her evocative portraits, K'sebier put forth this statement: 'I earnestly advise women of artistic tastes to train for the unworked field of modern photography. It seems to be especially adapted to them, and the few who have entered it are meeting a gratifying and profitable success.'
The current exhibition at Gallery 339, "Personal Views: Contemporary Photographic Portraiture in Philadelphia," brings together the work of six photographers who, by unintended chance through the selection process for the exhibition, are all women. It's a result worth noting, however, and the range of creative and well-crafted portraiture in the show is a testament to the vanguard presence of women photographers in the Philadelphia art community.
In an ironic twist, the first works encountered when entering the gallery are Justyna Badach's portraits of single men in their domestic dwellings. These large-scale vertical works evoke what the artist refers to as the 'refuge and prison' of bachelorhood, and the images communicate the range and openness of its definition. Personality and identity are revealed equally in these images between the individuals' poses and expressions and the decorative and iconographic aspects of their respective abodes.' But the deadpan aesthetic is cracked by Badach's inclusion below the images of framed textual descriptions of the subjects' histories, desires and interests gleaned from her personal encounters with each of the men.' These words 'move' the picture (to borrow a term from David Carrier) and present an embellished narrative, providing viewers with a 'before' leading up to the photograph as a visual pause. The fact that the tale of what is next for these men is left untold offers an open-ended approach to narrative portraiture that is provocative and compelling. Only one work hints at foreshadowing. Badach includes a terse comment about one man's habit of collecting potentially controversial images, declaring 'I was afraid for him.'
Jessica Todd Harper's portraits in suburban backyards and interiors are quietly present, with long exposures and a sensitivity to backlighting that permits the eye to comprehend the subjects through an ethereal filter.' There is no missing the fact that Harper's background is steeped with interests in Western art history, most notably Dutch Baroque and Renaissance painting, and these traces are present but reworked to a new, original purpose in the works in the show. In Sarah and Zephyr, the photographic distortion of the sitter's arm and hand recalls the mannerist irregularities of Parmigianino and Rosso Fiorentino. Becky and the Mountain combines the tradition of odalisques with a formal echo between body and nature not unlike like Franz Marc's Blue Horses. The act of looking at Harper's work is a slow process that induces contemplation rather than an immediate transaction between viewer and image ' it takes what painting offers and transcribes it to the contemporary through photography with innovative results.
Nadine Rovner is the newest photographer of the group, and as an emerging artist in Philadelphia her work exhibits much potential (see also her current solo show at The Print Center). Her images in this show range widely ' voyeuristic, tableaux-style interiors, plays on reflections and close-ups, and outdoor figurative landscapes. Clearly Rovner understands the language of contemporary photography and knows how to use her camera, but I got the impression that her personal voice is still veiled slightly by derivative sourcing. This, combined with the range of photographic subjects and approaches, left her work slightly ungrounded. Someone Knows is the most engaging of the mix, and its suburban atmosphere is a riddle not to be solved.
|Sicily 7, 1990, by Andrea Modica|
Andrea Modica's portraits of Sicilian and Umbrian life are nothing other than stunning. Exquisite craftsmanship and flawless technique combine with Modica's talent for spotting a latent modernity in rustic Italy, and she turns the ordinary into something extraordinary.' This is proof that photography does not always need clever strategies of engagement or digital bells and whistles to have merit as a contemporary mode of art. Every image is a stand-alone winner. Hemingway once remarked, 'You lose it if you talk about it.'' Mum's the word on this series.' Just go see it.
Rita Bernstein's portraits on the second floor are a turn away from much of the other work in the show.' If anything they share something of the ethereal experience and painterly references present in Harper's images but in smaller scale, black-and-white hand-produced prints (Awaiting Matthew's oblique angle reminds me of Mantegna's Dead Christ).' But Bernstein's artistic voice speaks sensually through the formal vocabulary of photography ' a hazy, soft light (not unlike some of K'sebier's photographs), emotive gestures and camera angles encourage voyeuristic intrusions on private moments that reveal little of the identities of the subjects ' to great effect. Many of the images offer views of intimate relationships between two figures where one appears as a definite physical presence and another as an intangible companion.' This is accomplished through a reflection or an effect of blurring the figure, and it results in a secondary figure that might suggest its presence as thought alone in the mind of the primary sitter. Bernstein's work reminds me of Susan Sontag's Against Interpretation; I recover my senses. I feel more.
|San Diego, CA, by Sarah Stolfa|
The curatorial conversation between the work of Sarah Stolfa and Zoe Strauss on the second floor of the gallery is fascinating. On one side, Stolfa's portraits present an understanding of America's regional diversity through individuals identified by location only: Camden, Pensicola, Memphis, San Diego, etc. Identity is framed in socio-geographic terms, and moving from one anonymous portrait to the next conjures up a conceptual journey across the map of the American continent. Memphis, TN, which depicts a deadpan image of a woman with a pistol holstered around the outside of her white dress-top, reminds us that American culture is framed by the balance and tensions between the federal, state and local. Stolfa's physical distance from her subjects creates an equal dynamic in looking that promotes the desire to scrutinize (not gawk at) the fascinating people she captures with her camera. To look at these portraits is to learn about America.
The portraits of women on view by Zoe Strauss elicit a different response. Part of a larger series called "America," these subjects are closer to the mediating picture plane between viewer and subject, so much so that at times I feel more the subject of the gaze than the depicted figure. Tonya, who stands in contrast to the red wall behind her, looks out with such intimidating intensity that it forces one to look away and re-engage again and again. Yet persistence pays off and the details, such as the torn earring holes in both ear lobes, mark the traces of personal life experience visible in each of Strauss' subjects.' Kelly, who gazes with confident tenderness from behind a Walgreens counter, almost hides an indescribable pathos. Yet, while we know the names of these women we don't necessarily know where they are in America (you can check the catalog in the gallery, but that detracts from the effect of their presence in this particular show). In this sense, they compliment the socio-geographic identity of Stolfa's portraits by presenting America as a country of individual identities who remind us that people are the same everywhere you go ' they hurt, they laugh, they age, and unfortunately in the tragic, heart-wrenching case of Gina, they often die too soon.
One of the challenging aspects of portraiture is the negotiation between artist and sitter ' how you approach and engage your subject has sensitive effects on what they are willing and not willing to do in front of the camera. Both Stolfa and Strauss have great talent for this process, and their photographs evidence the humanity that lies underneath the diversity, eccentricities, hardships and passions of America in the 21st century.
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