Brett Hillyard’s photo “Moose,” featuring a soldier wearing military garb, strumming on a guitar, a big smile on his face, demonstrates that joy can be found among difficult circumstances. Contrasting this image is Jesse Childers’ “Untitled” photo, depicting an elegantly adorned young woman, sitting on a long stairway, her head buried in her lap. Nick Sosin’s “Untitled” image shows an unclad store mannequin set amidst an empty field, perhaps indicating that it was discarded. Meanwhile, Ray Barbee’s wide-angle ”Untitled” presents a startling anthropomorphic-style vision of two large cranes hoisted into the sky.
These are just four of the 151 black and white photographs in the Irvine Fine Art Center’s exhibition, “Silver.” These images present a vision of life today in Southern California, and the surrounding environs. Wendy Ortiz’s “Los Guerrerenses” photo, for example, depicts a dark-haired mother (probably of Latino origin) carrying her child, alongside a Mexican style business, which could be in Santa Ana or south of the border.
All photographic artists in this show used the Irvine Fine Art Center’s photography lab to develop their work. The results are finely wrought images, both dramatically posed and candid, with many conveying a sense of mystery and wonder, and with most featuring sharp contrasts of light and dark.
The curator of this exhibition, Virginia Arce, the Fine Arts Center exhibitions program coordinator, explains, “With a show featuring 20 artists interested in vastly different subjects, who employ different styles, and whose careers vary in stages of development, it felt important to create a foundation that would link their work together. The idea of focusing on the analog black and white silver halide print made sense.”
Irvine Weekly: How and why did the Irvine Fine Arts Center decide to mount a photography show? is this a yearly event?
Virginia Arce: The exhibition was the result of a proposal submitted by a cohort who uses the IFAC darkroom. All of the participants use the lab on a regular basis. There’s a kind of synergy in their shared love of the process of shooting on film, processing their own film and creating their own prints that was the impetus for this group endeavor. They submitted a formal proposal to IFAC (that other members of the public can do), which showcased the range of creativity and diversity, harnessed in the darkroom.
How did you find and choose your photographers?
Nick Sosin, a patron of the lab and exhibiting photographer in the show, put out an open call for interested photographers to join the proposal.
How and why did you include only black-and-white photography?
There’s a kind of romantic element to this type of photography that I also think binds together this seemingly disparate selection of images. Seeing the world in black and white somehow makes it seem new, exotic and almost otherworldly. Some photographers in this exhibition are relatively new to the process, while others have been developing their practice for decades. If you speak to any of them, you’ll see their faces light up when they talk about developing images and knowing that their own hands produced them.
Did you ask the photographers to address any particular theme?
All of the photographers were free to pursue the existing themes that they were already invested in. My curatorial work came in selecting the strongest images from their portfolios, identifying major themes in their work and making sense of their unique visual language.
Brett Hillyard’s work, for example, has a kind of joie de vivre that comes through in all of his work, whether he’s photographing a soldier or a surfer. Michael Weitzman’s photography is wholly dedicated to creating unique images that aren’t easily reproducible. Gabriel Magallanes’ work uses modernist aesthetics to document skateboarding culture.
My selection was an attempt to identify and highlight the strongest elements of their work for a broader audience.
What else you would like to explain about this exhibition?
In the course of developing this show, getting to know each photographer, talking to each about their work, seeing bodies of work grow and refine, it has been rewarding to see professional and emerging photographers consider what it means to capture an image on the finite material that is film. In a culture that is so saturated with images, and that gives us the ability to easily take photos of anything, it is important to pause and consider why people take certain photographs.
The ability to take a photograph, develop it and print it is a process that many people can easily fall in love with. The photographic process further helps the artists become aware of the significance of using cameras for their work.
(The 13 other artists featured in this exhibition are Remy Alegado, Carlo Andaya, Art Brandt, Eric Bryan, Christina Cao, Jennifer Chen, Christopher Fetter, Victor Hernandez, Eduardo Jeronimo, David Kline, Christine Lee Smith, Guillermo Lefranc and Hugo Zhang.)
“Silver” is on view through January 11, 2020, at Irvine Fine Arts Center; Mon.-Thu., 10 a.m.- 9 p.m., Fri., 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sat., 9 a.m.-5 p.m; cityofirvine.org/irvine-fine-arts-center/current-exhibitions.