Visual Arts

Sign Activist Photo Bombs TV Shows With Cryptic Messages, Then Chronicles Work

"This Side of Paradise: New Photographic Work by Texas Artists"
reveals innovative techniques in the medium, including one artist who reassembles imaginary buildings using thousands of indexed and archived images (Leigh Merrill); a fascination with material reality manifested in images of rocks and mounds juxtaposed with actual concrete and sand (Bryan Florentin); and a sign “activist” who photo bombs television shows with her cryptic messages, later preserved for posterity through film and photograph (Christie Blizard). The biennial show is split into two venues – Houston Center for Photography (HCP) and FotoFest – and curated this year by PaperCity’s Catherine D. Anspon. Featuring new work by more than 20 emerging and established artists, it also includes a retrospective lagniappe by Mary Margaret Hansen and Patsy Cravens during their late ’70s and early ’80s feminist awakening, with al fresco nudes and domestic-themed installations and ephemera.

Houston Center for Photography offers an intimate in-depth look at works by seven artists, including Lané Pittard’s vignettes from a more innocent time; it’s hard to look away from Katie, Age 15, with her androgynous looks and large eyes belying a wisdom beyond her young age. Michele Grinstead Griffiths was inspired by portrait miniatures, and traveled far and wide to photograph people of all ages and ethnicities. Narrowed down to four entries, her oversized oval-framed likenesses appear as if from another century, especially with the blue undertones of her daughter’s skin in Lulu, and the timelessness of the bearded Mark.

Steve Goff’s monochromatic portraits are dramatic and theatrical, capturing the images of costumed men and women with his iPhone. Jack McGilvray chronicles the effects of drought at the family’s lake house through images of stranded tree stumps, a sound installation that includes singing and ambient sound, and lawn chairs woven from survey tape that measured the distance to the shoreline at three different levels. Delaney Allen’s landscapes have a sense of mystery, while Julie Ledet’s gauzy nudes come with an interactive component allowing visitors the opportunity to add their own messages to the wall installation.

Nancy O’Connor honors her aunt, great-aunt and grandfather fittingly, but it’s her relationship with the late Milam Thompson that offers a sobering reflection of a man who rejected society and took to the trees; the ten-minute video, a collaboration with Pita Rivas, includes narrative by the man who suffered abuse at an early age.

The exhibit at FotoFest is larger in scale, installed along the walls and corridors of Silver Street studios. Colorful highlights include Irby Pace’s vibrant smoke clouds in Marfa, Atomize, Grank Plank and Tumbleweed; and the candy-colored backgrounds of works by Kasumi Chow and Desiree Espada.

Carlo Zinzi’s playful images, most of them starring a flying hot dog with a lit fuse, creatively combine small plastic toys (fences, squirrels and frogs) with out-of-scale flowers and gardens to create fantastic scenes with saturated pops of color.

Chile-born Rodrigo Valenzuela devotes much time and effort before he ever takes the photograph, as evidenced by his meticulous sets, which incorporate photo squares, wood and objects in scenes that reference migration and labor.

Michele Monseau’s experiments with horizontally reflected images, overlain with other photographs, are most effective in the larger-scale works such as fieldbylakelight2 and lakebyflowerlight, which offer a magical quality.

Be sure to catch Rolando Sepulveda’s carefully arranged The Berries and the Bees, Tom Turner’s Bridalvial Falls with its fiery river of color, and Elise Weber’s body dolls with their exaggerated features. PROJECT B, the team of Barbara Levine and Paige Ramey, offers a nice homage to the sun with the four images in Screen, Glass, Burn, 1-4.

“This Side of Paradise” continues through November 14 at Houston Center for Photography, 1441 West Alabama, open Wednesdays and Thursdays 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Fridays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., 713-529-4755,

“This Side of Paradise” continues through November 14 at FotoFest, 2000 Edwards, open Wednesdays to Saturdays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., 713-223-5522, ext. 19,

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Susie Tommaney is a contributing writer who enjoys covering the lively arts and culture scene in Houston and surrounding areas, connecting creative makers with the Houston Press readers to make every week a great one.
Contact: Susie Tommaney