By Suzanne Révy
If we have never been photographed, do we exist? Millions of humans lived on this planet before the invention of photography, but since then, photographs have become the enduring relics of our presence in the world. And how does photography impact the myths and memories of our lives? In the first curated exhibition mounted by the Photographic Resource Center since their move to Cambridge, curator Sarah Pollman raises these questions by bringing together four individual artists, Caleb Cole, Dell M. Hamilton, S. Billie Mandle, Larry Volk and the collaborative work of Courtney Nimura and Trevor Powers in “Transmutations” currently on view in the lower level gallery in University Hall at Lesley University through August 11th, 2019. There is an artist talk planned for Tuesday July 23rd at 6:30pm.
S. Billie Mandle’s contemplative studies of light, texture and markings on walls are mysterious and emotionally charged with a forbidding sense. The titles, “Children’s Day Care,” “English Language Television Room,” or “Women’s Dormitory no. 2” indicate that these walls are institutional settings, a jail of some kind? In reality, they were made in refugee centers in northern New England and upstate New York where people’s lives were placed on hold as they waited on asylum hearings for entry into Canada. The tinge of the boredom that must have seeped into their lives is evident by children’s drawings or doodles and the faint palimpsests of random marks or stains. Mandle shows us a fragment of the place, but not the people. She asks her viewers to consider who made those marks? Who passed through these rooms, leaving only feint artifacts. The walls exist… to house and to comfort? Or to confine and imprison? And what will the refugees remember of this place? What will we remember from this era of walls?
Like Mandle, Caleb Cole employs the use of palimpsests in his collages referencing gay men’s magazines from the 80’s and 90’s. Selections from his series “Traces” conceal figures within largely monochromatic scenes which consider the hidden lives of many gay men. Likewise, Dell M. Hamilton’s abstract cameraless fields of color speak to evidence of human interaction with technology. Her scans reveal the fingerprint patterns, and in one, a ghost like face emerges from a field of red. Both works consider absence, and function as powerful metaphors for the facades we might don to present ourselves in pictures and in person.
Larry Volk and the collaborators Courtney Nimura and Trevor Powers address correspondences in strikingly different ways. Volk employs tourist postcards and vintage Kodachrome images in combination with the circular patterns of the Ishihara color vision screening tests to create vibrant collages that speak to the ways color informs nostalgia. In “Air Mail, After You” Courtney Nimura and Trevor Powers mailed prints from their travels back and forth to each other. Nimura is an archeologist based in the UK and Powers lives in western Massachusetts, and their collaboration examines the urge to photograph the places we visit. Have we really been there if we did not make a picture? Or send someone a postcard? Pollman states that “photographic meaning evolves and mutates when pictures travel across time and between people and places,” and by presenting the work of these six artists, she has invited viewers to participate in a correspondence with the work as an active collaborator. It is a visually satisfying show layered in nuanced juxtapositions, and a promising return to curated exhibitions for the Photographic Resource Center after their move.
For more information: https://prcboston.org/transmutations-may-aug-2019/