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Hauntingly Revealing Children’s Portraits in Galina Kurlat’s Tintypes

The children in Galina Kurlat’s latest photo exhibit, Shadow Play, stare out with an almost unanimous intensity. “We have subjectivity,” their faces tell us. “Take us seriously – and don’t disrespect our private worlds,” is a more common, unspoken theme. These almost shockingly intimate, black-and-white portraits, a characteristically diverse New York bunch ranging in age from three to fourteen and captured on tintype from the shoulders up, are on display at Peter Halpert Fine Art‘s new gallery space at 547 W 27th St. in Chelsea through Dec 1.

To what degree does Kurlat’s medium define or underscore the message here? Her sense of light and shadow is most strikingly evident in the grey areas, in every sense of the word. To call these pictures haunting and enigmatic is an understatement. On the surface, their rustic quality has a gothic sensibility enhanced by the fact that none of these kids are smiling (for the record, Kurlat only had to admonish one of the kids not to). But what’s most revealing about these shots is their depth.

Obviously, the greatest challenge in taking pictures of kids is simply to get them to sit still. Compounding that is the way we typically shoot children – on the fly, with goofy faces on both sides of the lens. Kurlat’s chosen medium here – a nineteenth century process – raises the difficulty another notch. With a tintype, you only get one shot. Your eye has to be attuned to catch a particular expression or pose in a fraction of a second. And if you don’t, there’s no handy filter or clever post-production technique available as a quick fix.

Many children inhabit extremely rich worlds of imagination, places that adults so often lose the ability to access. There’s reverie, even occasional fatigue in the kids’ expressions here, but the prevalent pose is pensiveness. There are even a couple of fleetingly stricken, “Damn, I forgot to  close the door to my imagination,” moments, most notably with a pair of siblings who appear to be about six and eight. As is the case occasionally here, their gender isn’t immediately apparent, adding to the otherworldly effect.

Much as Kurlat’s medium looks back to the past, these portraits project the kids into the future. It hardly takes imagination to see these faces as future college students, parents, businesspeople, athletes or artists themselves. It’s as if they’re telling us, “This is one possible thing I can be if I put my mind to it.” That’s something we should all take just as seriously – and it’s a good thing that Kurlat’s work is there to remind us.

November 2, 2018 - Posted by | photography, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , ,

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