Doublespeak: Yale 2017 MFA Photography Graduates
Shulamit Nazarian, Los Angeles
Farah Al Qasimi, Bek Anderson, Lance Brewer, Harry Griffin, Mathew Leifheit, Walker Olesen, Res, Anna Shimshak, Danna Singer, and Chau Tran
By Amy Kaeser
Through August 5, 2017
In the last two year’s our country has at once changed dramatically but also stayed the same. Seemingly a contradiction in the simplest terms of logic; change implies movement or metamorphoses, whereas its opposite is stagnation, stillness, inert. The challenge for a photographer in this contemporary moment is to capture the truth between the lines of “fake news.” The 2017 graduates of the Yale MFA Photography program look at the characteristics of a country divided and through their lens navigate fact and fiction, authenticity and artifice.
Documenting moments through the medium of photography, Farah Al Qasimi, Bek Anderson, Lance Brewer, Harry Griffin, Mathew Leifheit, Walker Olesen, Res, Anna Shimshak, Danna Singer, and Chau Tran convey compassion without the feeling of voyeurism or judgment in their images. In “Hometown” U.S.A., people sit and have their pictures taken, close-ups of calloused hands and worn faces, babies crying and mothers with their tired eyes, men and women, solemn moments and moments of peaceful introspection.
Each photographer takes on the political and social moment overtly or subtly in Doublespeak. As the name suggests, language is slippery at best and never more so than in the political arena. Res’ series of images, eleven in total, directly reference the Forty-fifth president of the United States, artfully choosing subject matter which subverts his power by allowing once marginalized figures a platform to tell their story. In one such instance, The Woman Who Built Trump Tower (2017) is a 25 x 20 inch print of Mrs. Barbara Res (the photographer’s mother) who worked for Donald Trump in his past-life of New York real-estate mogul. The image shows Mrs. Res in a pink parka holding a large sign with the phrase “I AM THE WOMAN WHO BUILT TRUMP TOWER” in bold lettering above a black and white picture of her at the time of the construction of the tower. The camera’s angle is tilted upward, the gray sky as the background, Mrs. Res is the singular subject of this image, demanding the eye’s attention. The contrast of Trump employing a women in 1980, an experienced engineer with many years of construction under her belt and his later leaked conversations of “Grab them by the pussy,” etc., etc., and his own comments regarding Mrs. Res (“nasty” and a “terrible person”) cannot be understated. His regard of and simultaneous abject disregard of women is a consequence of a man who is not and has never been held accountable for his actions, which are always at the expense of those around him, particularly women.
Farah Al Qasimi’s images, five in total, portray a banality subtly constructed to imitate intimate moments but in reality place war, religion, and race front and center. The beautifully saturated colors of each photograph are tinged with a touch of melancholy that seeps through the compositions. Only one or two subjects are presented for our consideration with titles giving context. The actions of the subjects are at once familiar and foreign, performing in sterile and flat spaces. Unease is palpable. Falcon Hospital 1 (Blue Glove) (2017)’s bold blue of the background, the slightly softer blue of the gloved hand holding the falcon’s head still, and the slice of the blue scrub uniform worn by the anonymous handler just out of shot seem to exist in the same space. The information needed is foregrounded with no other detail other than the image’s title. This somewhat sterile and cold image is juxtaposed with Phone Call (2017); the rust colored background is witness to the call a man in fatigues has received. Although his back is turned towards the viewer, his posture, slightly slumped, head cocked in listening to the receiver, and the hand of another officer lightly gripping his shoulder in a universal gesture of condolence or comfort, suggests we are viewing a call rather not received. Qasimi’s images are a study in color contrasts, black and white, blue and red, and although each image is static and bold in their depiction, each image is also packed with quiet emotion, only revealing itself with careful consideration.
Doublespeak is at Shulamit Nazarian until August 5th, 2017. The show visits three venues including Danzinger Gallery, New York, and Casemore Kirkeby, San Francisco.