THE CURVE: A GLOBAL VIEW OF NEW PHOTOGRAPHYMuñoz Waxman Main Gallery at the Center for Contemporary Arts, 1050 Old Pecos Trail, 505-982-1338; through Sept. 13
Santa Fe’s Center has long been a champion of emerging and established photographers alike. Each year, the not-for-profit organization awards grants to international photographers, allowing underfunded artists to pursue both fine art and documentary photographic objectives. Diverse judges choose winners from hundreds of applicants, samples of which constitute the Center for Contemporary Arts’ annual exhibition The Curve: A Global View of New Photography.
Documentary photographers Justin Kimball and Inés Dümig, first-place winners of Center’s 2015 Project Development and Project Launch awards, respectively, act as the show’s headliners. For years, Massachusetts-based photographer Kimball has documented a certain brand of American discontent that’s subtle but assuredly unsettling. A selection of images from his most recent series, Brick and Mortar, captures struggling post-industrial communities in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and elsewhere. In one photograph, a slight, elderly man is hunched over a deteriorating curb, his eyes intent and his hands, which are obscured by the concrete slab, busy at some unseen task. In another photo, a woman stands with her back to us at the intersection of a small-town street. She’s holding a broom in one hand, and a pile of dirt can be seen off to her right, apparently having been swept off the sidewalk and into the road. Focusing as he does on behaviors that seem trivial and even desperate, Kimball’s images are unavoidably suggestive of America’s troubled and often bewildering socioeconomic climate.
Across the room is Dümig’s Apart Together. Dümig has long been preoccupied with political and social issues, so immigration is a natural choice for her latest body of work. Her subject is Sahra, a teenaged Somali refugee who’s made her way to Munich, but now awaits possible deportation. Displayed in an artfully haphazard manner, portraits of Sahra convey her vulnerability and her isolation. In one image she’s resting on a bed with her back to us and her hand cradling her head; nearby, we see her through a glass shower door obscured by rivulets of water and steam, and eventually we see just her shadow, projected onto a leaf-strewn sidewalk. These more intimate shots are interspersed with photographs of dappled light on a tile floor, or a peach-pink apartment door — perhaps Sahra’s home? — with gold numbers reading 203. The images collectively occur as stills from a movie whose conclusion is uncertain — an unpredictable narrative that mirrors Sahra’s own.
Eight modestly sized photographs from French artist Antoine Bruy’s documentary series Scrublands hang nearby. Bruy, a winner of Project Launch’s Juror’s award, began documenting people living off the grid in Australia in 2006, and since then he has traveled extensively to capture families and individuals who choose to live on the fringes of society. In one image, a triangle-roofed home looks like it was assembled piecemeal, using whatever materials the builder was able to find, but its homely, ramshackle appearance evinces the cozy whimsy of a Hobbit house. Especially arresting are a suite of three images from Curator’s Choice award winner Chris Bennett. The Indiana native’s Darkwood series is an absolute departure from the beaten path: unpeopled and decidedly eerie. The images become ever so slightly darker when viewed from left to right, leading us further and frighteningly further into a final forested scene that’s almost completely black.
For a group of images with such extreme diversity of style and subject, the photography displayed in The Curve is surprisingly cohesive and utterly fascinating.