The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

Lower East Side Walkabout

with Ed Barnas
Photo by Matt Black . Source:
Matt Black

The Lower East Side, long home to immigrants and the working class, has been in the throes of gentrification for some time now. On Orchard Street, long known as a bargain district, upscale boutiques and trendy eateries mix with an ever-shrinking number of old-school stores. Included in the influx are a number of galleries that feature a variety of media and styles. Many include photo-based works and some are devoted to traditional photography. What follows is a brief survey of the galleries I visited this month (September 2014) during my LES rambles between Canal and Houston. While my walkabouts take a zig-zag route, I’ve grouped the venues by street.

Orchard Street

A block and a half south of Houston, Anastasia Photo (166 Orchard) specializes in photojournalism and documentary photography. Matt Black’s “Clouds to Dust” series is currently on display – twenty-eight monochrome pigment prints documenting migrant workers from their villages in the mountains of Mexico to the fields of California. These images are grainy and gritty, a far cry from the smooth tones we are used to seeing in the classic FSA photos of migrant workers. Extended portfolios of prints from both the current and past shows lay for perusal on the large central table in the gallery.

Just off Orchard Street, ROX Gallery (86 Delancey St) offers a wide mix of media. Closing mid-September, their summer show featured a good selection of Robert Doiseneau’s classic photographs, some familiar and others a nice surprise. These were paired with a selection of contemporary photographs by Rita Bernstein, Julian Darwall, and Emily Hope.

Photo by Caleb Charland . Source:
Caleb Charland, "Artifact #701"

Further down Orchard, we find the Sasha Wolf Gallery (70 Orchard St), which specializes in contemporary photography. Caleb Charland’s “Artifacts of Fire and Wax” currently on display marks an abstract departure from the figurative work I have usually seen here. Charland’s images are unique camera-less darkroom creations made with a red candle exposing & dripping wax onto photographic paper. The images that develop form abstractions of light and dark. Seventeen pieces are on display, several composed of multiple panels.

Photo by Monika Sz’ladi . Source:
Monika Szíladi, "Untitled (ribs)"

BOSI Contemporary (48 Orchard) lies a block further down. As the name suggests, it deals primarily with contemporary art. Photography is often incorporated. Thomas Knights “Red HoT,” an installation of over a hundred large color photos of bare-chested ginger men closed earlier this month. The current group show, “in, side – throughout,” explores human-object relationships. While the installations did not interest me, I was drawn to the color photographs from Mónika Sziládi “Left to Our Own Devices” series - scenes of gatherings of various subcultures. The gallery notes refer to these images as “unique digital collages” but these images did not appear overtly manipulated. “Untitled (Ribs)” caught my attention – an image of a couple at an opening, portrayed neck to mid-thigh, which reminded me of the headless fashionable party photos from the 60’s & 70’s. A woman seen in the background with a tiny Chihuahua peeking out of her bag looking at the central couple added the right touch to the image.

Photo by Popel Coumou . Source:
Popel Coumou, "Untitled (PC82)"

Eldridge Street

LMAK Projects (139 Eldridge) has offered a number of installations that are based in photography, though not necessarily traditionally representational images. The current exhibit by the Dutch artist Popel Coumou comprises four altered landscapes and four lightboxes. Each landscape is overlaid with geometric forms that merge into the scene and enhance a natural sense of depth in the image. Two of these images featured giant Euclidian forms that gave a science fiction film feel to the scene.

Photo by Pierre Molinier . Source:
Pierre Molinier, "Untitled"

Invisible Exports (89 Eldridge) often shows photo-based work of a more conceptual nature. Through a mix of mostly vintage silver gelatin and Polaroid prints, the current exhibit of work by BREYER P-ORRIDGE and Pierre Molinier offers an interesting glimpse into the world of two fluid-gender individuals. Molinier (1900-1976) moved from painting into surrealism and photography, generating a series of photomontage self-portraits as a transvestite. This work influenced Genesis P-orridge who would later collaborate with Lady Jaye Breyer to merge into the pandrogyne BREYER P-ORRIDGE. The Polaroids shown here follow some of that process. [A more contemporary take on gender issues appears in the group show “Identity” at the Sous Les Etoiles Gallery at 670 Broadway.]


Salon 94 (243 Bowery) offers a more conceptual take on contemporary photography. David Benjamin Sherry’s “Climate Vortex Sutra” is currently on view. Born analog in an 8x10 view camera, the show offers a mix of silver gelatin and “traditional color darkroom” prints of natural landscapes and the “personal territory” of the body. The colors here are oddly surreal given the subject, sometime going for a monochrome cast.

Broadway (East Side)

Technically, the western border of the LES is the Bowery. However, there are a few photography galleries on the Eastern side of Broadway that I often visit on my LES rambles. Three of them are located in 560 Broadway:

Photo by Laia Abril . Source:
Laia Abril, "Alex"

Sous Les Etoiles offers “Identity,” a group show offering five diverse takes on gender and assigned/assumed identity. Chris Rijksen’s “Gender as Performance” series presents the photographer full length, dressed in various outfits but in the identical stance, facing the camera with cable release in hand. It encapsulates the fluidity of the show’s theme, calling to mind the David Bowie lyric “Not sure if you're a boy or a girl.” Olya Ivanova’s portraits of “Weirdos” depict Moscow youth who seek to satisfy their need for self-identification through body modification (tats and piercing). On a more subtle level, Laia Abril offers portraits of ordinary men and women; it is only by reading the wall label that one realizes that they are asexual and feel no sexual attraction at all. This subtlety in image and need for verbal context is exemplified in Lindsay Morris’s joyful series of summer camp photos – these images offer little evidence to the viewer that the children depicted are “gender non-conforming.” A grid of a dozen of Jen Davis’ “Webcam” image pairings of online interactions rounds out the group.

Michael Collins’ “Landscape and Industry” is currently on view at Janet Borden Inc. Large color prints (48x60) offer long views of mostly unpopulated industrial landscapes. Two images stood out: one, an interior of the office at a pottery, contrasted sharply with the others in its human scale; the other, a high-rise overview of London, offered a dynamic counterpoint to the stillness of the other images.

This survey is by nature incomplete, as a number of galleries had not yet come back from the summer hiatus and pop-up galleries spring up here and there. However, it should serve to whet the appetite for exploration of the LES photo galleries.

Lower East Side Walkabout by Ed Barnas


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