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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    CCP show proves hot dogs and photography are more similar than meets the eye

    There is something residually American and sordidly satisfying about hot dogs.

    Pure in form, not quite pink but maybe brown, these pork, beef, and chicken mashups usually don’t warrant aesthetic appreciation, much less cultural consideration.

    In a gallery setting, the sentiments are considerably intensified. At least that’s the initial reaction evoked by photographer Lucas Blalock’s work in “The Pure Products of America Go Crazy,” the latest exhibition at the Center for Creative Photography running Saturday, June 20 to Sunday, Sept. 13.

    Curated by CCP’s Joshua Chuang, “The Pure Products of America Go Crazy” is, at first glance, a remarkably aesthetic consideration for an institution rooted in traditional processes, formal photographic concepts, with one of the largest archives of Western male photographers in North America.

    Plywood panels shroud standard white walls, framed works sits on the floor leaning breezily against walls, and the title itself, a line from a 1923 William Carlos Williams poem, is an accessible reference unbarred by institutionalized art jargon.

    Featuring the work of photographers Lucas Blalock, Owen Kydd and John Lehr, and accompanied by works from the CCP archive by Ansel Adams, Walker Evans, Lee Friedlander, Aaron Siskind, Frederick Sommer and Edward Weston, among others, “Pure Products of America” is a forthright contemporary show. The work is sparse and flat, depicting environments and products in a hypersaturated and experientially neutral manner.

    Besides hot dogs, subjects include plastic kiddie pools, damaged surfaces, mops, pillows, durational photographs on screens and manipulated images. What’s interesting is not the content, but its treatment.

    “One of the things that’s been really liberating about these kind of pictures that I’ve made over the last few years is that every part of the process is open for change and interpretation, from intervention on site, on the computer, through printing, setting things up in the studio, bringing things out into the world. It’s almost like in every picture I’m sort of reinventing it,” Blalock said at a panel talk with Lehr Sept. 10th at the CCP.

    Approaching medium specificity in a virtual world, the photographic work exhibited at the CCP addresses the very state and mechanics of photography as it is situated in modernity. Images reference the mechanics of image-making, Photoshop and the history of photography directly.

    “One of the things I’m trying to do in the act of making photographs is to reinforce their inherent flatness but also to try and expand the space through the act of making the photograph, and I think that has to do somehow with trying to make something that feels both virtual and physical at the same time,” Lehr said. “To have a picture be an embodiment of that relationship that we often find ourselves in.”

    As the role of photography sublates into common everyday processes—as image, as advertisement, as non-verbal communication, in social media—our understanding of photography necessarily dissolves. Increasingly, photographs that take on the appearance of fine art are recognized as such.

    Conflating photography present and past, “The Pure Products of America Go Crazy” establishes a duality between content and the means by which that content was achieved as has not yet been achieved in the relative short history of photography as an art practice.

    “Part of the initial anxiety about the digital age is that there was a point in time where everyone was working with the same printer, the same set of inks,” Chuang said. “There was only a handful of papers that you could really use, so things started to kind of look the same, although there was this theoretically limitless set of possibilities in the digital space.”

    Lehr, Blalock and Owen challenge these aestheticized conceptions, begging: what is the burgeoning role of fine art photography contemporaneously?

    It is technical, mechanical, online, permanent, reproducible and digital. It is also very different from the photography by Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, and John Edwin Mayall that was first recognized as fine art a century ago, or even 1966 fine art photography, where, as in Bill Brandt’s unframed show at Museum of Modern Art that year, framing photographs for exhibition was considered ostentatious, and prints were adhered to thin plywood for display.

    With largely framed prints of empty space and direct attention to the processes involved in the production of an image, it is safe to say that photography, in the least, is a residual medium, sordidly satisfying—kind of like a hot dog.

    Follow Audrey Molloy on Twitter.

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