It seems the camera was barely invented before trickles and then streams of photographers were exploring New Mexico, pointing their lenses at the rich cultural and natural landscapes that make the state unique.
Many of us are familiar with some of those resulting images, but we might not be as familiar with the contemporary work being done by local photographers or the work being done to display, as well as archive, significant pieces of photos, both as artwork and history.
PhotoSummer is an attempt to raise that awareness.
The idea for the project germinated with Kymberly Pinder, dean at the University of New Mexico College of Fine Arts and interim director of the UNM Art Museum, and was launched in Albuquerque last year in cooperation with 516 Arts and CENTER, a nonprofit organization based in Santa Fe to advance the photographic arts.
This year, said Laura Pressley, CENTER’s executive director, PhotoSummer has expanded to Santa Fe.
“We reached out to the photo venues in Santa Fe,” she said, resulting in a guide of photo exhibitions planned both here and in Albuquerque that was mailed to 7,000 people out of New Mexico and several thousand within the state.
Partners in Santa Fe also include Axle Contemporary, whose exhibit “Accidental Photography” opens 5-8 p.m. July 1 at the Farmer’s Market shade structure and continues in various locations through July 24, and the American Society of Media Photographers/New Mexico, which is bringing “The Fence” to the Santa Fe Railyard in July.
CENTER played a role in putting together some exhibitions itself, including “The Frontier,” work by CENTER members on display through Thursday at the New Mexico History Museum, which takes a contemporary perspective in looking at the effects of expansion on the mythologized western landscape.
Last weekend, another CENTER-curated exhibition, “Dispossessed,” opened at the Marion Center for Photographic Arts at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, and will be on view through Aug. 26. It is accompanied by “Six,” a senior thesis exhibition by six graduating students.
The “Dispossessed” theme stems from submissions CENTER annually invites for its awards program, as well as portfolio review for photographers. The invitation does not name a theme, but one often emerges from the types of images submitted. “We open them and see what the zeitgeist is,” Pressley said.
Last year, the theme that resulted was one of migration and evolving borders, not just geographical, but also cultural, such as gender. This year, many of the submissions mirrored themes of marginality, culture adaptations and incarceration, she said, sparking the “Dispossessed” theme surrounding the works in this exhibit by CENTER alumni.
But it’s not all doom and gloom, Pressley added.
“Within cultural systems, marginality is a dual experience of isolation and freedom,” Pressley and Suzanna Finley wrote in a curatorial statement. “From the margins, innovation and inspiration seep into the pervasive culture. But those at the margins also experience judgmental gazes and oppression.”
So you can see photos by people such as Haley Morris-Cafiero, assistant dean at the Memphis College of Art, who is overweight and stages scenes to record the reactions of passers-by to her in various situations. Or, as Pressley put it, “She focuses on people staring at her.”
Gregg Segal, based in Los Angeles, contributed images of people lying down amid the actual pieces of garbage they produce within seven days.
“Ever since I was a kid,” he wrote on his website, “I’ve wondered about garbage – where does it go and what happens when we run out of places to put it?
“The average American generates 29 pounds of garbage a week. As a nation, that amounts to about 9 billion pounds per week! I’m concerned not only by how much we throw away, but by how blithe we are to the problem.”
As he asked friends and family to participate in his photography project, though, he found that they were sensitized to the issue and looked for steps to cut down on their waste.
Bayeté Ross Smith, who started his career in photojournalism with Knight-Ridder Newspapers, and now is an artist and educator living in New York City, contributed works from his “Taking Aim” series that produces portraits of individuals with targets superimposed on their trunks and heads, making a statement about the large numbers of deaths and injuries by firearms in our society.
Jessica Eve Rattner of Berkeley, Calif., contributes images of elderly people in scenes of isolation or amid hoarded goods.
In her artist’s statement, she says, “My photography is driven by my interest in people and their stories – particularly in the stories and lives of those who haven’t the voice or means to be heard on their own, and those who exist on the fringes of what is considered ‘normal.'”
Leonard Suyjaya, meanwhile, says he hopes “to challenge conflicting conceptions of personal and cultural identities, intimacy, physical boundaries, gender roles, sexuality, queerness and freedom” with his images from Indonesia that present a riot of color and patterns.
And the final of the six photographers who provided the 25 images in the show is Wendy Young, who presents photos from her “Teenagers” series.
“The space between childhood and becoming an adult is negligible in the grand scheme of life but, as you exist in that space, it seems vast and overwhelming,” Young writes. “The notion of becoming responsible for themselves and musings about what their life may bring can cause unbelievable pressure.”
Overall, Pressley wrote in an email, “The work of these six CENTER alumni illustrate the psychological and emotional expressions of self-imposed or external dispossession and the ways we all experience feeling like an outsider, empowered and un-empowered.”