The silent life of the photographs found

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DENVER – Artists source their images from everywhere, from trash cans at thrift stores to eBay wholesalers and forgotten family albums. In the exhibition Original material, curated by Jon Feinstein and Hyperallergic collaborator Roula Seikaly, eight photography-based artists alter existing photographs in such subtle ways that multiple stories exist in a single frame an approach that sets these artists apart from their predecessors in the Pictures Generation or even the deconstructionists of Dada. The result is a brutal confrontation between the dark lives of silent subjects and the old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words”. How can the two coexist?

Several artists in the exhibition gently insert their own hands and bodies into the frame as the only modification of the original. Julie Lee interrupts her family’s gaze as she rests her thumbs and bandaged fingers on the smiles of school photos and vacation poses in cute frames. With the faces obscured, the image is a void where a connection was intended – a strange reversal of the function of viewer and subject. Lee’s action is both protective and violent as it asserts memory’s dependence on vision.

Ina Lounguine (left to right) “Foolin ‘Around”, “Heartaches”, “What Will I Tell My Heart” (2017), inkjet print on Infinity Canson 310g satin photo paper with handmade braille embossing (image courtesy of the artist and Colorado Photographic Center for the Arts)

Artist Ina Lounguine transforms something made to be seen into an object that promotes touch by embossing handmade braille on official wedding photos found at a garage sale. Loungin has retained the color scheme of the original negative film, featuring a bride in a black dress with empty eyes that glow against blue skin. The inverted image whispers doubts, and the raised surface of the paper teases a story illegible to the eye.

As the mind works desperately to fill in the gaps in these lost stories, the artists’ interventions seem to produce even more secrets. The photos found force us to consider their origins and why they have become detached from their creator or owner. How the artists exploit this separation is as significant a contribution as any previous photographic movement.

Jody W. Poorwill, “Projected” (2017), archival pigment print (image courtesy of the artist and Colorado Photographic Arts Center)
Alayna Pernell, “No Longer Peter Cohen’s Property # 16” (2020), archival giclee print (Image courtesy of the artist and Colorado Photographic Arts Center)

Original material continues at the Colorado Photographic Arts Center (1070 Bannock Street, Denver) until September 25. The exhibition is curated by Jon Feinstein and Roula Seikaly.

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