"Fotofest Discoveries" Uncovers a Moody Human Experience

"Mila KUJAGA" by Patrick Gries
"Mila KUJAGA" by Patrick Gries

For 11 weeks, photographs will grace a space usually reserved for suits. "Fotofest Discoveries" sprinkles 15 photographers throughout One Allen Center, Two Allen Center, Three Allen Center and 1600 Smith, four downtown office buildings.

The artists are: Miguel Aragón, Nils Olav Bøe, Fernando Di Sisto, Kim Tae Dong, FLORA, Patrick Gries, He Xiao Hua, Vlad Krasnoshchok, Sergiy Lebedynskyy, Claudia Presentado, Marcela Rico, Ian Teh, Vadym Trykoz, Suzanne Wellm, and Eldar Zeytullaev. These 15 photographers hail from Argentina, Austria, Belgium, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Korea, Mexico, Norway, Paris, Russia, the U.K., the United States, Ukraine and Uruguay. (Some of these artists have lived in more than one country.) 15 international artists means 15 points-of-view on the human experience, captured through both traditional or manipulated lenses. 15 points-of-view means a setup of varying photographs that juxtapose with stately building lobbies.

The common photographic philosophy that strings together each artist's work would be that the human experience is moody and sometimes lonely. Many of the subjects in these photos are alone and in the dark. Kim Tae Dong's "Daybreak #18" is haunting, as the photograph depicts a young woman standing alone in a parking lot, it is assumed, just before morning. In the background, a faint dark purple hue stains the sky.

In "Face with a Heart," Susan Wellm superimposes the already superimposed: a young man's face is printed over a phone book page. Both face and phone book are transparent enough to bleed into each other, but ironically, it is a pool of ink, a viscous substance infamous for bleeding through paper, that stays on top. Is it because the ink pool is actually a hemorrhaging heart, begun as a pair of inky hands pulling at the ventricles of said organ? This is possible, judging by the man's hollow, half-dead expression. These anonymous, cruel hands are the ones in control, ripping at the ventricles, putting a whole new meaning to tugging at one's heart strings.

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Patrick Gries has become known for taking skeletal photographs of animals, stripping away the outer layers to reveal a bony blueprint. "Milu KUJAGA," however, is all flesh, and there is no difficulty seeing the subject's inner turmoil. The photo reveals an albino boy, staring directly into the camera. His polite little uniform -- a diagonally striped black blouse and black slacks -- doesn't do a very good job of hiding his demeanor, which is pained; there is sadness in this child's eyes, enough to make the viewer want to weep. What's wrong? Well, first, Kujaga is a Tanzanian surname.

Next, there is the fact that the photo comes from Gries' series entitled In/Visibility, in which he photographs Tanzanian albinos.

Finally, it has been reported that albinos in Tanzania are not considered legal residents in their own country and are targets of persecution. Sometimes they are murdered, due to prejudice and/or the superstitious belief that albino body parts possess magical parts. Gries' photos return dignity to his Tanzanian subjects.

"Daybreak #18" by Kim Tae Dong
"Daybreak #18" by Kim Tae Dong

Ian Teh's landscapes, or "panoramas," are beautiful and terrifying. "Coal, Ash and Snow. Wuhal, Inner Mongolia" features two substances: dark mud and white snow. Both begin as large bodies of sludge that merge into a brown-and-white tributary. There are no humans in this photograph, only a glaring ecological mistake: the mud is actually pollution.That this trash can blend so beautifully with nature is an accident.

"Fotofest Discoveries" is one of many exhibitions being held as part of the Fotofest 2014 Biennial of Photography and Photo-Related Art, scheduled for March 15 through April 27. The Biennial evolves from Fotofest, a nonprofit arts organization based in Houston and recognized worldwide. Fotofest commits itself to recognizing and exhibiting talented photographers. Fotofest offers several exhibits and a year-round educational arts program. For the current exhibit, Fotofest is working in tandem with Brookfield Office Properties, the company that owns the four downtown buildings. Like Fotofest, Brookfield Office Properties has its own arts program, Arts Brookfield, which places exhibits in its office buildings throughout the world.

In addition to the exhibition, which runs until September 27, "Fotofest Discoveries" will hold four more mini receptions -- called "Really Short Tours," which last from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. -- on August 1, August 15, August 29 and September 5. Visit fotofest.org for more information.

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1600 Smith Street (formerly Continental Airlines Center)

1600 Smith St.
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