Culture Shock: The Photography Of Katherine Workinger At Blackbird Buvette

The Old Men Across The Sea

Sam Adams
3 min read
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Looking up from a drink in a dark bar the other night, I was confronted by a group of aging Hungarian men clad in Speedos and gold jewelry. One had his arms crossed over his bare chest and looked like a mob boss interrogating a rat, right before the rat gets whacked and his body is chopped into small bits. I would have been scared shitless had I not been looking at a photograph.

The image in question, "Budapest 1," was taken by Katherine Workinger, one of three artists in a group show titled
Samples at Blackbird Buvette. (The other works come in the form of cartoonish pen-and-watercolor pieces by Vincent Le and paper-cutout-on-canvas mosaics by Lindsey Holmes.)

Workinger moved to Albuquerque in October 2011, coming off four years of shooting as a freelance photographer in her native Minneapolis. Before relocating for a film production gig, she spent a summer traveling Europe, which is where she captured four of the five roughly 14-by-20-inch matte paper prints that hang in
Samples .

The portraits—all of elderly people, two in black-and-white—demonstrate a clear gift for capturing the facial expressions of strangers in a way that’s meditative and intimate.

"I found more of a common theme in elderly people," Workinger says about assembling the series from the myriad images she took while traveling. "They seemed more relaxed and not worried about how they looked, so it seemed more genuine."

Workinger relates one such instance. She was walking through a poor part of a town in southern Portugal. She came upon a restaurant that was packed with old men gambling with dice and cards. None of them spoke English. One man was sitting outside smoking a cigarette and tinkering with his bike, taking a break from the games. He’s captured in "Portugal 2," which depicts a wistful, bushy eyebrowed man against a white and dark green doorway. After taking this photo, Workinger walked into the restaurant and ingratiated herself with the rest of the gamblers, which resulted in another image that’s part of
Samples .

But perhaps the most striking print in the set is an image she captured of one of those Hungarian men. He lounges in a chair at a Turkish-style bathhouse. A light blue swimming pool in the background contrasts beautifully against a regal, golden palace. His stare is so intense that it seems to penetrate the camera, driving right through to the viewer in a manner that is raw and unsettling. What’s even creepier is that the guy looks like a spray-tanned doppelgänger for
Chicago’s most recent Mayor Daley.

Workinger’s photos have crisp focus, a quiet intrigue and an exceptional use of tonal contrast and color balance. While the group show only provides a glimpse into her photographic talents, it also highlights an up-and-coming artist who deserves attention (here’s looking at you, gallerists).


Runs through March 31

Blackbird Buvette

509 Central NW


“Budapest 2” by Katherine Workinger

“Budapest 1”

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