Take the Rail Runner to Santa Fe and you’ll see multiple rows of heads crammed next to one another, all silently bent over glaring screens.
Opening on Saturday, June 18, at 516 ARTS, “Future Tense” explores this contemporary contradiction of loneliness within connectedness through the photographs of CENTER alumni photographers.
CENTER is a Santa Fe nonprofit organization offering portfolio reviews for both budding and veteran photographers. The show is being curated by the University of New Mexico Art Museum.
Part of 516 ARTS’ “PhotoSummer” series of programs and workshops, the exhibition also features “As We See It,” an exploration of Native American photographers and “Starn Brothers: Absorption of Light,” a series of expansive photographs by twin brothers Doug and Mike Starn.
“Future Tense’s” theme crystallized after co-curators Traci Quinn and Stefan Batista leafed through thousands of photographs in Santa Fe.
Christine Collins’ haunting image of two beekeepers offered the key.
Equal parts nostalgia and bellwether, the image captures forests with space-suited caretakers, as well as a warning of impending environmental damage.
“There’s a tension there,” Quinn said. “It looks very futuristic. It reminds me of something you see in a sci-fi movie. We’re destroying things like bees that sustain us. She’s asking us to re-imagine the way that we live.”
The isolation produced by technology drives a strong desire for connection, whether with nature or others, the photographer Collins said in a telephone interview from Boston. The image is part of a series on suburban beekeepers. Their veils leave them both vulnerable and protected, she said.
“There’s this sense of a kind of ritual,” Collins said. “It was like church everywhere. The beekeepers have these very slow, languid movements. There’s this ritualized way of looking at the bees . There’s smoke, and sometimes they kneel down. People were looking for that kind of connection.”
Some of the hives don’t survive the brutal New England winters, she said.
“It’s kind of a gesture of faith to do this.”
Delaney Allen’s stark image of a cellphone features the screen grab, “Siri, why am I lonely?” with, “I don’t know. Frankly, I’ve wondered that myself.”
“There’s that sense of loneliness and isolation,” Quinn said. “People are kind of isolating themselves through technology.”
Photographer Delaney Allen produced his cellphone image as part of a series on loneliness and solitude after a breakup. The Portland, Ore.-based photographer spent two years traveling up and down the West Coast. At the time, his only connection to others was Facebook.
During one particularly desolate night, he asked, “Siri, why am I lonely.” The computer program responded, “I don’t know. Frankly, I’ve wondered that myself.”
“It tells what I see as an autobiographical self-portrait,” Allen said. “Sitting around alone at night, I decided to use Siri and that was the answer.”
Since, then he’s watched gallery visitors study the image, then ask the same question on their own phones.
“I’ve only known one person that got that same response,” he said.
Eric Pickersgill’s “Angie and Me” depicts a couple lying in bed back-to-back, their faces looking toward outstretched palms that once held cellphones.
“He removes the phone, and we see people disconnected,” Quinn said. “He really examines why these people aren’t talking to each other. They’re more engaged with what’s happening on the internet or the social media sites.”
In a similar vein, Dina Litovsky’s photo of a fashion show crowd reveals an audience of faces lit by cellphones. They aren’t even watching the runway.
“None of them are communicating with each other,” Quinn said.
“Our point isn’t to critique; this is just where we are,” she added.
The Starn Brothers’ series “Absorption of Light” captures a wall-sized moth in the moment before it self-immolates, drawn to the light that kills it. With apologies to “Mothra,” the brothers printed the images across a series of paper 22 feet long by 10 feet high.
The Starns printed their giant moth on fragile Thai mulberry paper that will deteriorate as it travels between exhibition spaces, much like the moth that inspired it.
Diné photographer Tiffiney Yazzie took a series of intimate portraits of her mother in her series “Quiescence.”
“They’re almost uncomfortably intimate,” 516 curator Suzanne Sbarge said. “You see every gray hair, every wrinkle, every chipped nail. Her mother is so vulnerable.”