Lucid Culture


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 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Photo Review: Traces and Avenues – Photos from Moment: Une Revue de Photo

Curator Cecilia Muhlstein has pulled together some terrific shots from the well-liked art photo journal, making it well worth a trip to the Safe-T Gallery, Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, i.e. in DUMBO this weekend before the exhibit closes on February 3. Galina Kurlat steals the show: as usual, her photos literally reach out and grab you. Her current focus is the traces of experience (translation: trauma) left on skin. There are sepia-toned close-ups of a woman reaching around and violently grabbing herself from behind; a hard-to-identify, grotesque shot of folds of flesh, and what appears to be a scar on the bottom of someone’s foot. Intense, to say the least.

Leo Theinert really has a handle on the irony of American iconography. On display here are his black-and-white images of a downtrodden old guy wearing an American flag shirt, forlornly pedaling an adult-size tricycle, as well as a rundown Old West-style single-story house, a horse (or is it a cow? the angle makes it hard to tell) chasing a cow around to the front.

Joanna Tam also has two captivating black-and-whites on display, the first a view seemingly taken while running through a graveyard, shot at a low angle as if seen through a child’s completely spooked eyes, as well as an interior shot of empty chairs inside a wood shack that gives the viewer a queasy sense of being in motion.

Kelly Anderson-Staley makes authentic ambrotypes using an 19th century wet-plate process. Her completely candid, rustic-looking contemporary portraits here are styled darkly in sepia; the best shows a woman with a completely perplexed, somewhat vexed expression.

Angel Amy Moreno’s lone contribution here is a subtly mysterious view of a woman taken from behind as she makes her way out from under a walkway into the light, toward a bus stop. It wasn’t taken in America – Mexico City? Italy? – and resonates with the energy of Moreno’s subject’s resolute path out of the darkness.

There are also photos which appear in Peter Lucas’ forthcoming book The Last Hour of Summer: Found Photographs from Rio de Janeiro, 1962/3, taken by an amateur photographer, Orizon Carneiro Muniz in the last days before the military coup. They’re casual and somewhat lo-fi, as one would expect, yet a vivid look at the last sunny days there before the regime of terror took over. Carneiro Muniz died shortly after taking the photos; the book will cover the provenance of the photos and Lucas’ detective work to discover who took them.

The gallery also has a collection of politically conscious, deviously witty, square and rectangular shellacked pendants by Maureen Kelleher for sale. The best has rubberstamps from the Louisiana State Penitentiary superimposed on New Jersey lottery tickets.

[Editor’s note – The Safe-T-Gallery closed its doors in the summer of 2009]

February 1, 2008 Posted by | Art, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment