Geoff Winningham doesn't so much tell stories with photographs as he spots other people's stories and photographs them. They're fleeting images -- signs that are long gone, a shop undone by Hurricane Rita, a coliseum destroyed in the name of progress -- thought-provoking relics of people who have long left the scene of the crime, or are unknowingly part of it.
These often anonymous, mysterious stories comprise "Words and Pictures," a retrospective of sorts at Koelsch Gallery. Most photos are pulled from different series Winningham has shot over the past 40 years, chosen because they're either a picture of a picture, or a picture of words. It's a simplistic conceit that reaps big rewards. For "Photos," there's the collage of news clippings, magazine covers and photos on an abandoned barn in Leadville, Colorado. Winningham broke in to take the shots in 1994, and, after some detective work, found they dated as far back as 1943. Time gave these clippings an aged, frozen-in-time look -- sepia in action, no Instagram necessary. Shared with us here, you wonder about the person who took the time to put up these images -- mostly horses -- and why. What started out as a harmless, common task has become somewhat haunting and strange.
For "Words," there's a series of handmade signs that Winningham found on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. There's one advertising carne asada, another "dirt-sand," a third for gasolina, but with the word humorously broken up into "gasol" and "ina" to fit onto the wood. The jackpot, though, is a long, unexpectedly poetic tirade by one Joseph C. Dunn against the harassment he's apparently faced at the hands of the FBI. Read it in full.
Another memorable work can be found against a wall comprised mostly of religious imagery. Hung next to photographs of a papier-mâché Jesus and sleeping pilgrims at a festival for the Virgin of Guadalupe is a shot of a homeless man, sleeping peacefully at Allen's Landing. He's shrouded in light, giving the piece an unexpected holy feeling. Winningham makes another thoughtful contrast with two photographs taken in Mexico of men's backs -- one man is sporting a cape with the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, his counterpart a windbreaker with the image of his own religious icon -- Magic Johnson.
Winningham reprinted the majority of these works for the purpose of this show, and the materials used are as diverse as his subjects. There's an incredible piece from the Leadville series comprised of carbon pigment on brushed aluminum, as well as photogravures, archival inkjet prints, vintage gelatin silver prints and German Etching paper, to name a few. Winningham has really experimented, and the show is enjoyably engaging as a result.
Geoff Winningham, "Pictures and Words," at Koelsch Gallery, 703 Yale Street, now through April 21. For more information, call 713-626-0175 or visit the gallery's Web site.
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