Sunday, February 15, 2015

Mark Steinmetz at the Ogden Museum; "Que Bola Asere" at the New Orleans Photo Alliance Gallery

The one word title of Mark Steinmetz's exhibition--South--serves notice of what we can expect from images so deadpan that they suggest comments like "yep," or "nope," or "maybe." Inspired by great street photographers like Gary Winogrand or Robert Frank, who captured the manic dynamism of 20th century American life, Mark Steinmetz focuses on the poetically pensive moments of ordinary Southerners. In Athens, GA, top, a girl lounges on a car amid the bland nocturnal chaos of a parking lot sometime in the 1990s, seemingly pondering personal mysteries. Her "lost in thought," aura has much in common with a shot of a guy in a t-shirt furtively smoking a cigarette as he clutches a styrofoam cup in a wooded patch in Johnson City, TN, 1995. Like characters in Raymond Carver short stories, or Randy Newman's Good Ole Boys album, they epitomize the folks who populate much of the New South and who probably don't vote, yet whose unanswered questions, and comments left unsaid, sometimes seem to hang in the air like the morning haze on a balmy summer day.

The Que Bola Asere photographs of Cuba are essentially documentary views depicting slices of life in the Caribbean time capsule that is Cuba today. Amid the journalistic images of typical apartments, shops and cityscapes, the more personal poetry of the place comes through in works like 1956 Dodge Royal in Havana by Daniel Kramer, above, where a hulking Detroit cruiser with extravagant, if faded, fins is framed by a line of colorful laundry and a little girl with a far away look in her eyes. Here we sense the inner life of a place where a proud people obviously feel very at home yet are also just hanging on, at the mercy of forces they can't quite control. A place where the familiar patriotic slogan "Viva Cuba Libre!" painted on a crumbling stucco wall (photo by Betsy Gosling) can assume ironic double meanings. ~Bookhardt  South: Photography by Mark Steinmetz, Through May 10, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600;  Que Bola Asere, Celebrating Cuba: Group Photography Show, Through March 8, New Orleans Photo Alliance Gallery, 1111 St. Mary St., 610-4899.