Real Photo Postcard Survey @ Portrait Society

Visitor at Portrait Society Gallery - Photo © Art Elkon
After two years of effort, our Real Photo Postcard Survey opened on Gallery Night and Day at Portrait Society Gallery in Milwaukee on July 23. Milwaukee had been hit by torrential rains the day before adding an edge to the evening as heat and humidity soared. Still people were out in the streets and headed up five flights to the gallery. Art Elkon made photos throughout the evening and we made a video.
Visitors at  Portrait Society Gallery, July 2010
We put 160 palladium contact prints in four cherrywood display cases to show the chronology of their making and consider the human impulses to document, to collect, to communicate something of contemporary existence. The display cases are made by Penzoni Display in Michigan and marketed on eBay for the display of sports memorabilia. We re-purposed them. The small dark prints are demanding to look at and artist-friend Lindsay Lochman has suggested leaving magnifying glasses laying about the gallery to aid viewing. We may take her suggestion before the show ends on Saturday, October 2nd.
Installation view at Portrait Society Gallery, July 2010
A series of lifesize portraits from 8x10 transparencies made with an 11x14 Deardorff studio view camera came out of the project. The scale (72x28") emphasized the physicality of the body and the presentation of self. Scanned at high resolution and output on an Epson 9800 wide format inkjet printer on canvas, the portraits reference Rembrandt and Van Dyke paintings whose subjects were royals and the petite bourgeoisie. In 2010, we have photographed Amber D. who manages a Wendy's restaurant in Manitowoc, Thomas C., a self-proclaimed "recovering alcoholic", wrestling with the gravitas of his ancestry and Jo S., a retired psychiatric nurse. Many of the people in the photographs have intersected with us via the Midwestern art and music communities. For the most part, they are students, professors, writers, artists, curators, family, friends and neighbors.
Amber D. after a day at Wendy's at the opening
Gabriella S. and her mom Jill at the opening
Amber D. had a tough day at the Wendy's, but made the trip to Milwaukee to attend the opening still clad in her work uniform with a green badge promoting salads. Gabriella S. and her mother Jill brought bouquets of flowers and snapped pix. Many others we photographed attended too wearing the garb they were pictured in adding a "living sculpture" element to the evening.
Installation view at Portrait Society Gallery, Milwaukee, July 2010
Framed diptychs of found real photo postcard studio portraits from our collection juxtaposed with our palladium postcard portraits pointed toward our ongoing examination of and use of obsolete technologies and vernacular forms: postcards and the post office in the age of online social networking, analog photography in the age of digital imaging, the photographer's studio in the age of overvalued real estate and escalating foreclosures. Confined to our dark cave like studio for the past two years, the portraits have been taken out into the light with the exhibition.
Debra Brehmer signing catalogs - photo © Art Elkin
The gallery published a catalog/postcard set to document the project. We selected six portraits from the many we made to reproduce as postcards in the set. Two copies of each are included in a folio for a total of 12. Our hope is that the majority of the cards will be mailed out to extend the "mail art" portion of the project. It should be noted that the commissioned portrait participants received 100 postcards of themselves to mail out spinning off into projects onto themselves. The postcard set includes an essay about the project by gallerist, writer and art historian Debra Brehmer plus a grid of the 55 portraits commissioned through the Portrait Society Gallery in 2010. Catalogs are $10 each.
Installation view of Vanessa Winship's photographs, July 2010
Also on view at the Portrait Society Gallery is Vanessa Winship's Dancers and Fighters series of portraits of children in Georgia. The head-to-toe portraits provide a cultural contrast to our own portraits of Midwestern American people.