The Houston Center for Photography opened two new exhibitions, In Appropriation and Learning Curve 6, this weekend with a Friday evening reception and a Saturday morning curator walk and talk-through with Aaron Schuman. Separated from the melee of opening night, a quieter Sunday afternoon yielded the floor -- gallery, actually -- to the photographs so they could speak their thousand words; a cliché but appropriate phrase to describe visceral, sometimes haunting portrayals of human experience and emotion.
In Appropriation is a presentation of, according to Schuman, "contemporary photographers" Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, working in tandem, Melinda Gibson, Seba Kurtis, Esther Teichmann and Michael Wolf. "On Kawara," a mixed media piece by Wolf, places two photographs side by side in one frame, but it's not just some cut-and-paste juxtaposition. The white letters of the emblazoned date, "SEPT.10.2001," stand out from a bleak black background. Positioned next to a calm scene of everyday ordinariness, the photo becomes bleak, making the viewer a hopeless psychic of sorts, knowing what will happen 24 hours later but being unable to stop it -- not in hindsight, at least.
Wolf's pieces continue around the room -- notably in "Andy Warhol," another picture-by-picture piece from his Real Fake Art series. ("On Kawara" is part of this series, too.) In this one, a painting of trees is to the left, while a photo of a man holding that same painting is to the right.
Broomberg and and Chanarin remix the usual point-shoot-click formula with the Afterlife series. The chromogenic prints, i.e., photos pressed onto clear glass, retell the graphic execution of Kurdish prisoners in Iran on August 6, 1979.
The pair return in a different room for a series entitled "People in Trouble Laughing Pushed to the Ground," an apropos name for a collection of photos depicting emotional nuances. Next to each other in the 15-photo series are "Man Grieving" and "Laughing hiding pulling," depicting a man in mourning and a young girl laughing, respectively.
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"Each of these fragments," the pair's artist statement reads, "...offers up a self-contained universe all of its own; a small moment of desire or frustration or thwarted communication that is reanimated here, after many years in darkness."
Around the gallery's corner hangs Learning Curve 6, the yearly showoff of Houston Center for Photography's Learning Center class, a school made up of more than 300 workshops offered to any aspiring photographers, professional or not. The modest collection of juried photos by Jenny Ackerman, Susan Alexander, Jennie Z. Carr, Lesia Fuqua, Megan Gile, Terri Golas, Johnce Hall, Jasleen Kaur, Brandon Merz, Jory A. Pacht, Marcia S. Patrick, Jerry Pierson, Felisa Prieto, Dave Ripley, Christina Rivera, Saundra Salter, Dawn Steel, Michael Swift and Haya Varon are not as big or complicated as the In Appropriation pieces, but solid in their simplicity.
The exhibition could just have easily been alternately named "In Appreciation"; that's what we felt for Prieto's "Ice" piece from her Single Series: a piece of ice: Simple. Jennie Z. Carr "Nose and Mouth Device-Day 1" is a hopeful close-up of a toddler wearing a device to fix his cleft palate, proving that, even around photos of candles and naked women in ecstasy, everything and everyone is beautiful.
Both exhibitions run through October 28 at the Houston Center for Photography, 1441 W. Alabama. Visit .