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The sheer number of maps in the world is proof enough that I am not alone in my fascination with them. An ancient human invention, they have been used to reveal far more than geographical accounts of the earth. From tracing changing political boundaries to the sitings of U.F.O.s and everything in between, maps are the graphic handmaidens to our obsession with ordering and making sense of the world around us. And through the ages, artists have made all manner of creative renderings on their own mapping expeditions. To feast on some contemporary interpretations of forty juried photographers, visit the Chicago Filter Photo Festival exhibition, “Mapping: Borders, Bodies, Memories”, opening tonight at David Weinberg Photography. The brainchild of curator Paula Tognarelli, Executive Director and Curator of the Griffin Museum of Photography in Winchester, MA, this show includes expansive meditations from the celestial to the corporeal.
Many of the photographers create cultural or personal maps of their pasts by incorporating various forms of writing into their work. Kerry Mansfield, winner of this show’s Juror’s Prize, photographed the front and back of a library envelope from an iconic children’s book, encoded with “due dates” from decades past. With her intimate presentation of this marked –up, obsolete item, Mansfield pays homage to the seminal childhood experience of borrowing a library book, at once celebrating and mourning this disappearing communal activity.
Rafael Soldi won Honorable Mention for his soulful and compelling self-portrait, “Bajo Tu Manto” (translated as “Under Your Mantle”). Soft light and selective focus cradle Soldi as he grasps a small, inscribed card to his bowed head, apparently lost in sorrowful memory, the embodiment of someone struggling to overcome some personal boundary.
There is abundant layering in evidence here, both in the images and in their meanings; happily, it is almost universally deftly executed. Many photographs feature some form of wrapping, marking or patterning, sometimes over the entire photograph, other times on bodies or objects within the images themselves. Stefan Petranek’s bright and bold print displays a woman’s hand bearing a hospital maternity bracelet. An irregularly patterned array of black dashes overlays her hand like an encrypted tattoo, depicting the genetic code she has conveyed to her newborn son.
In Ji Yeo’s arresting “Beauty Recovery Room 01”, a naked Korean woman stands awkwardly between bed and wall in revealingly harsh light, her slimmed hips and arms wrapped in post-surgical gauze, her breasts revealing the scars of augmentation. Unusually graphic and blunt, this image integrates the concepts of borders, bodies and memory in the most personal way, urging us to consider differing cultural ideals of beauty and, by extension, our own sense of self.
External maps and borders abound, as well. The delicate giclee print of expansive, swirling celestial bodies by Joerg Metzner, Jennifer McClure’s side-lit chin and arms raised into silver, staccato streaks of rain in a night sky and Clarissa Bonet’s magical, dark cityscape, filled with bright windows in buildings whose boundaries we cannot see (but attempt to infer), all offer fresh interpretations of the obscurity of borders in the dark.
Borders and bodies are assembled with humor in Steffen Mittelhaeuser’s contrasty, campy “Seams and Boundaries”. Michelle Rogers Pritzl’s feet look pained by comparison, but recall a triumphant memory of psychological transition in her moody collodion wet plate print, “Proof of the Strength of Experience”.
Gentle humor combines with a psychological view of borders, bodies and memories in Asia Kepka’s beautifully composed exploration of identity, from a series with her mannequin, in “Bridget and I – Pool”. Roberta Neidigh portrays neighboring track homes sharing very little in the way of personal tastes in her witty view of property lines in “Black & White”.
There is a lovely series of photographs emphasizing line and composition, while integrating nuanced undertones. Megan Mette’s shot of a side-lit interior wall features a sharp, deep slash of shadow emanating from the ceiling toward the floor. A subtle, irregular crack edges up from the baseboard to meet it, creating a tension – almost akin to longing – in the distance remaining between them. This house has been lived in; it has the tracks of memories in its walls. Meg Lydig has created topographic borders in her elegant black & white photograph of a crumpled, then partially flattened, piece of paper with a single horizontal line drawn on the “peak” ridge across the middle of the page. The line looks at once like a mountain range with a ridge path and like the graph of an EKG or electrical nerve impulse. But at its core, it is still a piece of paper and everything depends on how you look at it; it could be a map of borders, or of bodies or of memories.
Curator Paula Tognarelli has assembled a broadly interpreted and remarkably cohesive body of work, exploring an expansive metaphysical theme. With a topic this abstract, you really take your chances. But for the photographers in this exhibit, the process of mapping the experiences of their lives succeeds eloquently in touching our own. The show runs through October 6, 2013.