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Archive for December, 2007

Jagged Little Pills

diazhope.jpg“Better living through chemistry.” It’s a phrase coined by DuPont back in the 1930s to sing the praises of science, and has since been turned into a pop culture reference to mind-altering drugs. Photographer Andy Diaz Hope takes this phrase and runs with it.

I ran across Hope’s work last year during his open studio. His work space is in the Mission in a long somewhat dark room that you get to through a courtyard, an unexpected oasis when you’re walking in straight off the street.

From afar his pictures look oddly pixelated, until you get up close and realize he’s taken his photos, cut them into tiny pieces, inserted them into small gelatin pill capsules and reconstructed the original image. Suddenly you’re seeing the world fragmented through the prism of pharmaceuticals. At one point it’s a face, the next it’s a collection of pills—each subject’s identity broken down and defined by these tiny little chemical packets.

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Anatomy Lessons

hellweg1.jpgIt’s the question every photojournalist might ask him or herself. When dramatic events unroll before you, do you stay behind the camera and document or do you step out and engage? Max Aguilera-Hellweg decided to engage.

It started back in 1990 when he was asked to capture a neurosurgeon at work for Savvy magazine. He was transfixed by what unfolded on the other side of the camera and began documenting all sorts of surgeries—cosmetic, brain, heart. His work was published in the Mutter Museum calendar which features medical and anatomical oddities. And finally his fascination drove him to sign up for medical school where he is now studying to become a doctor. Talk about career change. It only makes you wonder more about what he saw in the operating room that so moved him.

Aguilera-Hellweg has published a book, “The Sacred Heart: An Atlas of the Body Seen Through Invasive Surgery.” His pictures aren’t “for the faint of heart” as the catalog copy warns. They are intensely fascinating; you cringe and at the same time you can’t stop looking. Aguilera-Hellweg’s images reveal something secret and intimate that most of us never see—the mysterious workings of our own “invisible” insides.

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Tattered and Torn

sabella.jpgSculptor and photographer Nadim Sabella studied archeology in his native Germany. He’s now based in Oakland where he turns out artwork that is very much driven by his training as a cultural detective. Sabella’s work puzzles together stories from the remnants of a not-so-distant past.

His photos capture abandoned rooms where plaster and sheetrock crumble beneath neglect, the elements, vandals. Rooms overgrown with ivy. Rooms left hastily. Rooms where the TV no longer works. Universal rooms with no time, place or circumstances given (although some look like they’re taken in Germany).

Sabella’s photos remind me of demolition sites in Paris. Buildings used to be constructed with murs mitoyens, a common wall shared by two buildings. If one building was torn down the common wall remained, still covered with a tattered patchwork of wallpapers, traces of stairwells, mangled faucets and dangling showerheads, the innards of the vanished building exposed, leaving only a skeletal imprint of the lives lived in its rooms.

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slota.jpgGerald Slota traffics in fairy tales and mysteries. His images are often blurry, fleeting, difficult to read, the surfaces riddled with cuts, lines, tears, childish doodlings.

Slota manipulates his negatives, drawing on and scratching them, laying shapes over the negative to obscure or embellish the image while he’s printing. Looking at his pictures is like walking into a ghost story.

He’s done a whole series called “Found” in which he builds his own new universe on the surface of other people’s pictures. Unknown figures smile and pose patiently, unaware of the new chaotic stories that now swirl over their frozen image.

His manipulations are a way of engaging in a story in which he has no part. Who are these people? Slota reduces them to primal symbols. In this trio, Slota’s etching charges the scene with new meaning. The triangular stick figure dresses of the two women, turn them into a child’s rendering of a mother or sister. The man in the middle with his claw-like hands wields wiry lightning streaks that slice across the milky blur of the women’s faces. Above them a picture of a simple flowerpot is reduced to its essence, captured in a few lines.

As observers of old photos, most of us might dream up our own momentary interpretations. Slota commits them to paper, creating physical, primitive portraits.

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wagner.jpgMost people view lightbulbs as mere functional objects. Catherine Wagner proves this wrong in her photographic catalog of these wonderful everyday glass sculptures (“A Narrative History of the Lightbulb“) that was on exhibit at Stephen Wirtz gallery earlier this year.

The Baltimore Museum of Industry invited her to document their prize collection of 50,000+ lightbulbs. She lines them up in colored palettes of greens, blues, metallic silvers and golds, as well as by shape—long and tubular, bulbous and round. She allows the viewer to forget the object and focus just on color, gradation and form.

Wagner is something of an archeologist, documenting the relics of our culture. Her series on the American classroom unearths a box full of frogs for dissection, a science lab with a collection of taxidermied animals—birds and bird wings, deer and deer antlers—arranged in a tapestry high on the wall. Wagner’s work often has a scientific slant; in her “Cross-Sections + Annotations” she photographs the cross-sections of plants, laying out pomegranate seeds, onions, and corn in exact geometrical formations, phalanxes of organic matter multiplied into an abstract pattern.

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