I was pleased and honored to have the opportunity to co-jury, with Doug Beasley, the upcoming exhibition, Contemporary Photography in Hawaii 2012: The Fourth Annual Survey Exhibition. Since we intend this exhibition as a survey, we want to see what exactly is the state of contemporary photography in Hawaii at this point in time. Here are my observations, and I look forward to hearing other thoughts as the show opens and the community has a chance to see it—and respond to it.First, it is clear that we have a diverse and vibrant photographic community in Hawaii. We selected 58 images from 45 photographers from the nearly 400 images that were entered. Several trends emerged. Well over half of the accepted images are B&W or some variant, such as toned monochromatic work. Some of these are traditional silver prints. The black and white images are highly personal, unique and and strong, ranging in theme from portraits to metaphoric explorations to a few conceptual investigations.
However, the question emerges for me, what about the expressive use of color? Many of the color images, that did not make it into the exhibition, seemed superficially interesting without depth of content. And many were overdone, with overly saturated colors, too much sharpening, and labored efforts in experimenting with high dynamic range, that seemed to be merely endeavoring for effect. In some of these images, we had the feeling that the photographer was striving to make a good picture, rather than having a genuine interest in the subject or having something that they wished to actually communicate.
The subtlety of the expressive language of color was clearly present in the images chosen. But some photographers seemed attracted to the merely bright and shiny. Is this a reflection of our environment? Are we, as educational institutions, not doing our job in introducing individuals to the many aspects of the expressive language of color?
One of the hallmarks of the strength of the submissions was the variety of insightful portraits. Some images of people are immediate, penetrating, and graphically powerful. These impressed me greatly. As usual however, we found a lack of penetrating documentary photographs. I wonder often about why photographers do not feel moved to use the power of the photographic medium to explore, investigate and document the myriad of social, environmental and cultural issues and contradictions that belie the beauty of our island shores. The seeming lack of a durable tradition of documentary photography in Hawaii is, for me, a question. Why?
Mystery and metaphor are words that spring to mind as I view a number of the accepted images. Some photographs have a depth of content that transcend the particular moment and speak to the human condition. Photographs often point to the unknowable, those things we feel and sense on primal levels but cannot articulate using rationality or linear thought. We depend on art for representation of this level of the human experience. I am thankful that many photographers are willing to approach both their inner and outer worlds with questioning and depth.
Pictures are about something. Not just pretty forms and bright colors. Pictures speak to our minds, our hearts, and our senses. Good photographs grow from the propensities and interests and acute experiencings of their maker. They reveal what photographers care about, are passionate about, what they think about, what they are, and where they are going.
Show us beauty, as you see it. Show us contradiction, as you see it. Show us your deepest secrets, as you see and feel them. Robert Adams once wrote about landscape photography, but I think can be extended to all photographs. “Pictures can offer us, I think, three verities—geography, autobiography, and metaphor. Geography is, if taken alone, sometimes boring, autobiography is frequently trivial, and metaphor can be dubious. But taken together, as in the best work…, the three kinds of information strengthen each other and reinforce what we all work to keep intact—an affection for life.”
The 58 photos in this exhibition all contain some measure of the integrated strength of Adam’s statement. Please come and enjoy the opening on April 6 and the exhibition which runs through April 27.