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Focus on FotoFest 2012

Snapshots from the photography biennial.

A five-minute drive gets you to two shows at Lawndale. In "You, Me & Diane," hanging in the space's back gallery, the "me" is Emily Peacock, the "Diane" is Diane Arbus and the "you" is either us, the audience or the friends and family Peacock enlists to help restage some of Arbus's famous photographs from the book Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph.

Arbus is one of the most prominent photographers of the 20th century, made famous for her black-and-white portraits of people on the margins of society — giants, dwarfs, transvestites, nudists, circus performers. So it's a pretty brazen move by Peacock to re-create her iconic images. She goes beyond, say, a Sherrie Levine, and inserts herself into most of the photographs as she restages them, down to the dress and posture, as much as she can.

The resulting photographs are more playful than anything. There's a youthful, "playing dress-up" quality, but when art students play dress-up, they take it further, imitating a young man in curlers at home on West 20th Street, a Mexican dwarf in his hotel room, a nudist lady with swan sunglasses, a hermaphrodite with a dog in a carnival trailer, a child with a toy hand grenade, an albino sword swallower. Peacock transforms herself into these central figures through detailed makeup, wigs and costuming. If in doubt, you know it's her thanks to the tattoo down her right arm.

Emily Peacock's show at Lawndale re-creates the photos of Diane Arbus.
Emily Peacock, Courtesy of Lawndale Art Center
Emily Peacock's show at Lawndale re-creates the photos of Diane Arbus.

Details

"Cara Barer: Time Capsules" and "Shelley Calton: License to Carry"

Through April 28. DeSantos Gallery, 1724 Richmond, 713-520-1200.

"Fragment of the Cast"

Through April 28. Sicardi Gallery, 2246 Richmond, 713-529-1313.

"You, Me & Diane" and "The Photographic Mirror"

Through April 14. Lawndale Art Center, 4912 Main, 713-528-5858.

"Things That We See And Do"

Through April 15. Lynn Lane Photography Studio, 1824 Spring Street Studio #205, 917-744-1818.

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It's a clever conceit, and the photographs are charming, but one thing does nag. The people Arbus photographed really were giants, dwarfs, nudists, transvestites; they weren't pretending for a photo shoot. The show is ultimately an homage to Arbus, but let us not make light of the often unfortunate people who made her so famous in the first place.

Upstairs at Lawndale is a big name around here — Chuy Benitez. The celebrated Houston photographer is serving as curator, though, not exhibitor. In "The Photographic Mirror," he's pulled together 16 artists whose works aim to represent modern self-portraiture. It's varied stuff, from black-and-white shots, to Us Weekly-like faux-magazine covers, to triptychs, to digitally manipulated photos, with artists hailing from Houston and as far away as Iran. Standouts include Joel Hernandez's contextual, theatrical self-portraits that reference his Mexico upbringing, and two works by Alejandro Cartagena. In one, he's standing on a roof, holding a comically enlarged print of an old-school portrait in front of his head. In another, he's similarly disguised, standing behind a door mirror. Both play with traditional notions of self-representation in a refreshing way.

At some point during the festival, you're going to wind up at Spring Street Studios. The big show up right now on its two floors is "Contemporary Russian Photography," one of the three main FotoFest exhibitions focusing on Russian photography (works falling under the theme will be reviewed in an upcoming issue of the Houston Press by Kelly Klaasmeyer). But some of the artists in the studios also have work up to coincide with the festival. And for a two-in-one, Lynn Lane and Carrie Courtney display photos that are a departure from their bread and butter in "Things That We See and Do." Lane is known for his photographs of dancers, Courtney her portraits of animals. You'll find neither here, but rather black-and-white photos of the night from both. Lane's are taken from a 2 a.m. drive through Pasadena — you can even see the speedometer registering his miles per hour in a photograph of an oil refinery taken while Lane was at the wheel of his Jeep. Courtney's are pulled from trips to Kemah, Florida and San Francisco and feature electric shots of a boardwalk, carnival and street scene that play with the contrast between light and dark. Both sets are richly textured, spontaneous-feeling works worth a quick detour from the main event.

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