In my recent post about sour grapes, I failed to cover a facet of this issue that comes up time and time again… cronyism, or at least the appearance of it. Before I enter a juried show, I always do some research on the juror(s) to find out if my work will even be at all in line with their interests. Occasionally, after the winners have been announced, whether or not I'm among them, I've researched the winners (nothing stalkerish- just reading a bio or something) and have, in some cases, come across obvious connections between the winners and the jurors. For example, I can't help but notice that in one prominent quarterly juried exhibition, there have certainly been a high percentage of winners that come out of the school where one of the regular jurors teaches. But, truth is, I don't really see anything wrong with it. It just makes sense.
It makes sense to admire the work of people you know, doesn't it? If you like the person, chances are, you're going to better understand, and appreciate, their work. On the flipside, there are plenty of people I've never met who, judging from their work, I imagine I'd certainly get along with (here, here, here, here, here, here, ...). Of course you're going to be attracted to people you admire and respect. Chances are, in some dark corner of my mind, if I like your work, I also want to sleep with you. Shit… that being out there is going to make our meeting awkward, isn't it? Scratch that… I don't want to sleep with you. All I'm getting at is that attraction and admiration are intertwined.
The reason the topic comes up is that as I keep thinking about what I want this blog to do/be, I can't help but think that I don't want to turn this into yet another page of fan's notes to Alec, Joel, & the other heavy hitters (though they really are a couple favorites), but instead, I'd rather draw attention to others. But, that said, I also want to get beyond the simple "I like this" approach (though there are worse ways). I figure that anything worth drawing attention to, is worth thinking and writing about as well. That said, as I think of projects that I admire, many are by friends. So be it… the disclaimer's out there.
So, in what will likely be a continuing series on work I like that happens to have been made by people I like, I'll bring out two from the home team: Alexis Pike and Ron Jude. Alexis, Ron, and I all got into photography while under the spell of Brent Smith (not this one) at Boise State University, though all at separate times. The sequence of school being what it is, we've all explored similar themes, and fed off each other, without actually knowing one another outside of email for years. I didn't meet Ron until moving to Syracuse in 2000. I didn't meet Alexis until I moved to Portland in 2003.
Though each of them have made significant bodies of work dealing with a variety of themes, it seems fitting to bring out the work from our stomping grounds. Ron's "45th Parallel" blew me away when it was published in DoubleTake in 1999. A project that dealt with the commercialism and mythologizing of the West in his small logging-turned-resort hometown of McCall, Idaho, I was really impressed with the way that he approached the topic without the aggressive ironic punch I'd been so interested in up to that point (think David Graham). The subtlety in some of these pictures, I suppose a sort of deadpan quality, gives breathing room to the natural landscape that's being both cherished and commodified. There's a subtlety here that leads the viewer to a deeper complexity than the simple good vs. evil / nature vs. culture dichotomy.
Alexis deals with similar issues in her series "Human Nature," through her examination of murals painted throughout Southern Idaho towns. More often than not, the murals depict a pristine natural wilderness, an idealized portrayal of nature in all its majesty, yet in image after image, it's the juxtaposition of the here and now that stands out… the peeling base of a cinder block wall or a bright garden hose & red vinyl chairs gathered at the base of a mysterious forest with a winter palette. These juxtapositions bring us back to the idea that while we may adore, glorify, and/or crave nature, we certainly don't see ourselves as part of it.
Danielle [more on her later- she's fucking great) have founded A-Jump books), Jude's recently had work published in Blind Spot and I've heard he's got a new project coming together. Looking forward to it. Harass your academically connected friends in coming months for Exposure, the magazine put out by SPE for a portfolio of Alexis's work, along with an interview by me that we conducted & reconducted over a beer or two.