"MOVING/STILL: Recent Photographs by Texas Artists" explores the complicated relationship humans have with nature through the viewfinders of 12 photographers. To these artists, dealing with nature means accepting its unpredictability. The exhibition will be showing at both Fotofest and the Houston Center for Photography. An opening reception for the former was held last Friday and the latter, Saturday.
Friday's rainy afternoon lent a solemn mood to the Fotofest opening, one that may have closely resembled Megan Badger's photographs. However, while attendees dodged raindrops to make it into the gallery, Badger's subjects make peace with nature's thrashing waves, glaring sun and gooey mud.
"Gnashing of Teeth" is both ugly and beautiful. First, all of Badger's photographs are inkjet prints, matte alternatives to the glossies strewn throughout the gallery. This works well with the subject of the photograph, who splashes around in muddy waters. Black mud covers her all over, from her black dress to her black hair, but she doesn't appear to be grossed out. In fact, her face is one of pure ecstasy, of giving herself away to a sticky subconscious.
Elsewhere, the relationship between man and nature plays out in environmental distress, figurative dance and subtle manipulation. Elizabeth Chiles's Figs From Thistles series is titled after a book of poetry by the same name, her grandmother's favorite. The photographs look for beauty amongst the now barren. Chiles started photographing plant wildlife in spring 2013, just as Texas's cold winter was turning to warm summer -- however, after a season of drought, wildflowers were hard to come by; what was left; sadly, were bunches of dried-out, burned-out grass. Chiles's photos capture the rare flowers that grew despite this distress, whether they were an unexpected gathering of pink, orange and yellow wildflowers ("Figs from Thistles no.1"), or a lone pink flower ("Figs from Thistles no.4"), surviving amongst the ruin.
If one were to take Chiles's wildlife wasteland and turn it into a nondescript room, and an eager dancer were meant to represent a thriving flower, it would look like Hector Hernandez's photos, which use figurative dance and dancers as an allegory about the environment. In "Hyperbeast: Yellow," the dancer's legs, covered in green tights, are stems, and the hidden upper torso cloaked in a silky yellow cape is the colorful flower. The ratty old room behind the dancer is the scorched Earth, brought back to life by the gyrations of the flower/person inside it.
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Truth be told, these covered dancers remind the viewer of Susi Brister's covered figures, previously explored in "Fantastic Habitat," a concurrent exhibit at Lawndale Art Center. How ironic, then, to find some of these same pieces just meters away from Hernandez's.
Unlike the covered pieces in "Fantastic Habitat," these pictures don't come alone; Brister pairs her cloaked pictures with three "complementary, unmanipulated sculptural forms found in nature." "Hollow Ground" is a pile of dirt, dented down the middle by either rain or the implosion of its own gravity. You know that this mound of sod has been sitting there for a period of time because the fall leaves have begun to cover the dent. This dirt surrounded by warm fall leaves is a drastic contrast to "R&T and Frosted Mongolian in Fallen Leaves." Although leaves surround the unidentified "Mongolian" creature, as well, his hunched figure takes up the majority of the frame, so that you are mostly confronted by his icy grey fur.
This contrast is similar to Keliy Anderson-Staley's "The 'Round Barn' at Zocalo, Gouldsboro, Maine" and "Earthways Lodge in Winter," two pictures that sum up the entire exhibition succintly. On the left, "The 'Round Barn'" displays a cylindrical home; green grass grows all around. The overgrown thick grass represents life, as well as the other items around the barn: a bike, red doors, a wheelbarrow. "Earthways Lodge" shows the complete opposite: An abandoned hut, covered in hay. It is apparent that no one has tended to the little lodge in a long time, as a pile of snow covers the hay. The cold snow represents stasis, or even death. On the other hand, the wildly growing green grass in the former C-Print represents growth, and ultimately, life. Life is fluid; death is static. Where "The 'Round Barn'" is "MOVING," in "Earthways Lodge," life is "STILL."