Sunday, June 5, 2011

Historia Del Futuro at the Newcomb Gallery; Synthesis: Mixed Media Photographs at the Darkroom


Portentously titled LA HISTORIA DEL FUTURO, or "The History of the Future," this stark exhibition of photographs by Michael Berman and Julián Cardona is billed as "focusing on the wild places in the desert southwest and the people crossing these lands at the U.S./Mexico border." Its implicit message--that the Mexicans are not only coming, but will keep on coming--is fraught with perplexities best left for  discussion elsewhere. What we see here are stark black and white documentary photographs, mostly of Mexicans in dire straits amid landscapes so desolate as to make Death Valley look inviting. Indeed, the threat of death is inescapable as they endure 40 mile marches across blazing circuitous wastes for the privilege of working at tasks so numbing they don't even tempt our long term unemployed. Although generally in the social documentary vein of the 1930s WPA photographers, the drama here is mostly cumulative as images of new wayfarers lighting votive candles in a church (top, Julian Cardona) yield to panoramas of heat, dust, bones and privation such as Michael Berman's VOPOKI WASH, ARIZONA, above left, suggesting that vast stretches of our Mexican border, and those who cross it, occupy the far reaches of Hades, and we can only contemplate with wonder and dread the desperation of those who feel compelled to undertake such ordeals. Surely there must be a better alternative.

A very different approach appears at the Darkroom, in this SYNTHESIS expo of images derived from alternative photographic processes. What is documented here are psychic states expressed in works such as Terry DeRoche's palimpsest blowup of a 1968 Polaroid family portrait with superimposed handwritten commentaries, above, or Ann Schwab's deadpan-poetic self portrait with thread and botanical specimens or Leah MacDonald's hyper-painterly encaustic on silver print, FRUIT, right (all of which were eloquently complemented by the rather psychodramatic BETWEEN FATEFUL AND FORLORN show--featuring impressionistic work like Ann George's neo-Victorian OBEDIENCE AND THE GIFTS, below--at the nearby Photo Alliance Gallery through June 5th). Sadly, this is the Darkroom's final exhibit as this important local institution suspends operations this month. It will be sorely missed.  ~Bookhardt

LA HISTORIA DEL FUTURO: Photographs by Michael Berman and Julián Cardona, Through June, Newcomb Art Gallery, Tulane University, 865-5328;
SYNTHESIS: Mixed Media Photography, Through June (by appointment), The Darkroom, 1927 Sophie Wright Place, 522-3211;

New Orleans Photo Alliance Gallery, 1111 St. Mary Street, 610-4899;