Shifting Focus

Photoarts Abq

Katy June-Friesen
8 min read
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Josh Franco, director of the Downtown Contemporary Arts Center, explains the route of travelers and art purveyors who come to New Mexico this way: They land at the Sunport, get on I-25 and head north to Santa Fe. It's a route established by a cultural myth, a route that bypasses Albuquerque altogether as an art destination. This has real consequences for artists and gallery owners. It's this myth that made Valerie Hollingsworth mad enough to organize PhotoArts ABQ into something more than a sidenote to the renowned PhotoArts Santa Fe photography festival.

When Hollingsworth heard that PhotoArts Santa Fe, a festival that showcases photography in venues across Santa Fe, wasn't planning to include Albuquerque in its 10-day 2005 schedule, she was frustrated. When she heard that one reason was the “lack of photographic activity in Albuquerque,” she got mad. But she knew another reason was because the folks in Santa Fe simply didn't have a concept of the art scene down here, and they didn't know anyone willing to head up the Albuquerque event. So Hollingsworth, who is assistant curator at the Downtown Contemporary Arts Center, started putting together PhotoArts ABQ on her own.

Tapping Our Resources

Two years earlier, a few Albuquerque galleries were participants in the biennial PhotoArts Santa Fe festival. The original aim of PhotoArts Santa Fe, says originator Melody Bostick, was to make Santa Fe a photography destination-—not just as a marketplace to buy but also as a place to make photographs. Bostick says the resources were there in galleries, museums, schools, artists and curators. Unfortunately, the resources weren't being showcased.

Since Hollingsworth began cultivating PhotoArts ABQ, Bostick has come to realize that Albuquerque has many photography resources as well—resources that have only recently been tapped. Her eyes have been opened to the fact that there are far more venues for photography in Albuquerque than she imagined, even though the city only has one official photography gallery, the Albuquerque Photographer's Gallery in Old Town. Bostick believes all of northern New Mexico has a history of people traveling here to photograph, adding “we're delighted to have the entire region thought of as a photography destination.”

Whether Albuquerque can be claimed as part of northern New Mexico is debatable. Yet when PhotoArts Santa Fe, which is a project of the Santa Fe Council for the Arts, saw what Hollingsworth was putting together, they realized it was worth their while to include Albuquerque. Although PhotoArts Santa Fe and PhotoArts ABQ are not connected financially, the Santa Fe festival is including July 15 in its schedule as “Albuquerque Day.” PhotoArts Santa Fe receives funding from local businesses, the city and the state. In Albuquerque, participating galleries pooled expenses for ads, and each gallery is paying for their own reception.

While PhotoArts Santa Fe is more of a conference, with workshops and lectures, PhotoArts ABQ is exhibit driven. On Friday evening, there will be a citywide photography crawl with 18 galleries participating. The artists exhibiting are heavily local, but also come from other states and countries. Contemporary, journalistic, landscape and fashion photography will all be represented, along with a gamut of photographic processes.

Testing the Boundaries

In her book On Photography, Susan Sontag claimed, “despite the presumption of veracity that gives all photographs authority, interest, seductiveness, the work that photographers do is no generic exception to the usually shady commerce between art and truth.” The works in PhotoArts ABQ challenge the veracity of photographs and negotiate the border of what constitutes “photography.”

At the Donkey Gallery, Chad Person has used a tesla coil to make prints of live electricity, or electrograms. Mary Goodwin has turned the interior of her car into a camera obscura, layering images of the outside world into the upholstery.

The South Broadway Cultural Center is exhibiting work by New Mexico's Digital Artists of America Association, including George Bajszar's surreal, color-saturated prints of school buses and furniture pieces that have been relocated into New Mexico landscapes.

At the Dartmouth Gallery, Matthew Cohen has produced color photographs on canvas that play with the dark and light of windows and doors, incorporating the fabric's rich texture. Marylin Conway's pinhole photography creates muted images that look like archives from a dream world.

At UNM, where the photography program is ranked second in the nation, the faculty and graduate student show features different approaches to portraiture by faculty members Adrienne Salinger, Anne Nogle and Jim Stone, whose images include titles such as “Carol, Bartender, and the head of the second largest St. Bernard: Huntsville, Utah.” The student work at the UNM gallery uses a range of processes, including Mike Sonnichsen's color photograms in which a dish soap bottle appears translucent and jellyfish-like on a black background. Tom Richardson's archival ink jet prints layer words from handwritten letters with portraits of cars and houses in collages of landscape and decorative patterns.

Both Working Classroom and the Harwood Art Center are showcasing impressive student work. At Working Classroom, students constructed box cameras and made small prints of Albuquerque's urban landscapes. One of the Harwood's galleries features the work of Eldorado High School photography students, including a series of images that document barbershop activity by Sean Alkire.

A Working Place for Artists

Kelly Eckel, who moved back to Albuquerque two years ago, is currently exhibiting her work in a solo show at Trevor Lucero Studio. After spending time in the New York City art scene, Eckel realized that although the facilities were there to foster art, there was no time for her to do artwork, and it was too hard to pay rent. She moved back to Albuquerque to give herself more time to work and develop a professional career.

Now she looks around Albuquerque at the art her cohorts are making and sees work more impressive than some of what she saw in New York galleries. She's surprised some Albuquerque artists haven't been picked up by big galleries.

Albuquerque's low cost of living means artists can spend more time working on their art. But this also means people spend a lot of time working on their own. Eckel hopes PhotoArts ABQ will inspire these artists to get together to build shows, collaborate on photographic works and push each other artistically. More communication between artists, says Eckel, is needed both in Albuquerque and between Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Eckel's exhibit for PhotoArts ABQ features different styles on each wall of the gallery. One wall is an ongoing piece made up of 15 years of work. Another wall displays her dramatic black and white Fragmented series, which uses images of the body in a dark, void background. A third wall showcases mixed media responses to current political issues.

Barry McCormick, the cover artist for this issue of the Alibi, says he doesn't need to have the long résumé and gallery names to get recognition for his work in Albuquerque. While the Santa Fe scene is much more influenced by galleries, McCormick feels the Albuquerque area has a certain vibrancy and willingness to accept new artists. He believes “Albuquerque is a lot more democratic than some place like Santa Fe.”

For McCormick, who moved to Albuquerque four years ago after working as a commercial photographer for three decades in the vicinity of New York City, this artistic democracy has been important for his own growth. He also notices the arts scene seems livelier now than when he first moved here. Photography is more than well in Albuquerque, says McCormick, and PhotoArts ABQ has the potential to be more than just a stepchild to PhotoArts Santa Fe.

McCormick's work is at the South Broadway Cultural Center and the SolArts Gallery and Performance Space. He hopes viewers will see images that cause them to take a second look and question what's happening. With McCormick's work, this second look is often motivated by uneasiness about how the human form is framed and manipulated. “I just like to be out there a little,” he says.

Perhaps Albuquerque, without the deep-seated historical reputation or expectation to be an art mecca, is becoming a place where artists can be a little out there. PhotoArts ABQ provides a good introduction to the galleries promoting contemporary arts and the artists who have chosen Albuquerque as a destination for their work.

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