New York Photo Review
Volume 4 Issue 17 April 17 to 23, 2013

The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

Outsiders and their Art
Fred Scrunton
Ed Barnas

Photo by Fred Scrunton . Source:
Fred Scrunton, "Joe Minter; Birmingham, Al" 2012.
To many people Outsider Art is primitive, quirky, eccentric, and looks like trash. To others,it has vitality, power, imagination, and is visionary and prophetic. From Fred Scruton’s seventeen environmental portraits of Outsider artists currently on display at OK Harris, it is evident that he takes the latter rather than the former view.

Environmental portraiture is a well-established genre in photography. It can be as bland as a back-cover author portrait behind a desk, or as emotionally charged as Arnold Newman’s image of Alfred Krupp. Scruton chooses a more documentary approach, objectively presenting his self-taught subjects within the context of their work and environment. A professor of art at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania (and a former freelancer), he has traveled around the country over the past five years, spending time with his subjects, getting to know them on their home ground. In his images they appear absorbed in their thoughts or in their work as if unaware of him and his camera: Amber Groome sits on her bed with eyes closed; Chris Barbee looks up at a cross made of bowling balls; Thomas Dworzanski glides by on a skateboard. Only two appear to look to the front out of the frame, directly engaging the viewer, as if presenting their art.

Photo by Fred Scrunton . Source:
Fred Scrunton, "Billy Tripp; Brownsville, TN" 2008.
There is a feeling of hyper reality to these 20x24 inch chromogenic prints and the gallery text refers to them as “heightened documents”: The color is vivid; the lighting is extremely controlled and balanced (e.g., the photos of William Brady and of Dominic Espinoza); and the level of detail and sharpness is exemplary. The gallery text does note that Scruton uses PhotoShop at times to combine portions of several photos into a single image and that may contribute to this sense of heightened reality. I suspect this may have been done in the image of Billy Tripp who is standing next to a motorcycle covered in so much ornamentation I found it unreal. Unfortunately, in one image (the vertical photo of Joe Minter), the blue background is so even and perfect that it looks more like a studio seamless than a natural sky. However, smoke rising from an outdoor fire in the image of Robert Seven seems to flatten the middle of an otherwise three-dimensional object, as if the center were a matt in the midst of a glossy surface.

Given the diversity of the art these individuals produce and the way it is presented here, I suspect many viewers will be intrigued enough to learn more about at least one of them. I know there are at least two I will be investigating.

Fred Scrunton

O.K. Harris Works of Art
383 W Broadway
Lower Manhattan - West         Map

212 431 3600

Saturday, March 9 to
Saturday, April 13, 2013
Hours: Tues-Sat, 10 to 6

Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat