We hosted Chicago photographer Brian Ulrich at Lawrence University April 30 where he lectured on his Copia series and visited with our photography and video students. His portrait of a goth teen shoe-shopping was among our favorites showing 21st century youthful rebellion being expressed through consumer choice. After photographing Manitowoc youths in Ramones t-shirts in the 1990s, we see a continuum of difference still expressed via shopping. Can teenaged questioning and dissatisfaction evolve into something more than the latest Hot Topic fad or yet another skateboarding revival now? Ultra-goth dead malls, which are great for skateboarders, have been absorbed into Brian's Copia series recently. He just received a Guggenheim Fellowship to fund expanding the work in the coming year. Excellent. He photographs the abandoned structures at night to underscore their eerie presence. The pictures gave us hope that these fading cathedrals of consumerism will soon become permaculture homesteads or nursing homes. Our home town, Manitowoc, features the decrepit empty Brutalist architectural wonder, the Mid Cities Mall. We hope Brian will visit and add an eerie after dark study of the place to his ouevre.
The lush faces of teenagers filled the shadowy white gallery space at the Milwaukee Art Museum. The exhibition of portraits by Dawoud Bey called Class Pictures (April 15-July 12, 2009) was made up of sumptuous color prints exuding dewy youth. The show catalog and text panels documented the words of each sitter. As part of his process, Bey asked the students to begin by writing something about themselves. These brief, sometimes edited texts were displayed alongside the portraits often blowing away viewer preconceptions. Bey trains the lens of his 4x5 camera on the person allowing the background elements to fall into the soft focus inherent in view camera pictures. He positions hands carefully to reflect a gesture in the subject's repertoire of gestures. "What should I do with my hands?" is a typical response to posing for the camera. A generation ago Karsh focused on the mature faces and textured hands of great people. He asked them to hold cigarettes, touch faces, fold hands or point fingers as if to contemplate or confront fate. Bey is able to coax a more casual gesture from a generation that perhaps has deconstructed greatness. Wisdom and wrinkles now only make rare appearances in American visual culture though youth is ephemeral.