OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJuror Alex Castro and “Best in Show” Winner Ran Ziemar

Juror’s Statement: Anyone called upon to evaluate work for exhibition will tell you how difficult it is. That is true, but it is also rewarding, and, given the variety and quality of photographs in this exhibition, it was particularly so.

When judging, I try to keep in mind the one thing that creates a baseline for selection. In this case, I was looking for fresh approaches as well as aesthetic strength. I find myself gravitating towards those works that teach me something, take me places I have not been. Therefore I avoided choosing some very competent work that had the feel of work I had seen before. Had the basis of selection been different, many good works that are not represented in the final selection would have been included.

On the whole, I found the work to be strong and generally accessible, and I hope those photographs that were selected excite the viewer as much as they did me. — Alex Castro

Rollinger, Anne. ColumbiaJeffrey Rollinger, Anne, Silver Gelatin Print

The opening for Focal Point was so crowded that when I first arrived it was hard to get near some of the photos. I knew that I would need to return to be able to write a meaningful review.

Alex Castro was the juror and I was looking forward to reconnecting with him; many years ago we worked on an exhibition together at the Textile Museum. I am glad I arrived early-ish and found him right away because he could not stay to make comments during the award presentation. I had some time to ask him how he selected the photos for this year’s nationally juried photography exhibition. I always wonder when I see photos in a gallery if they were selected because they are “good” photos, meaning they have a range of values from dark to light (all those formal concerns) or if it is because of the subject in the photo.

When I put this question to Castro his response was that he wants to see “an image that is fresh, a mystery, with energy.” He wants “the artist to teach him something that he doesn’t know, to show him something he didn’t see”.

Zeimer, Tire Marks on the Jersey Barrier #1

The best example of this are the photographs of Ran Ziemar, which were awarded Best in Show titled “Tire Marks on the Jersey Barrier #1 and #7 and are of tire tracks on Jersey barriers on the JFExpressway in Baltimore. After looking at the photos for a while I wondered how he got such a focused shot of something on the highway. Zeimar explained to me that he and his wife went on the highway on Christmas day, early in the morning, knowing there wouldn’t be any traffic. He got out of the car to photograph the subject while his wife followed behind in their car. “I risked my life for art” is his explanation.

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Stockman_Lost Childhood

A photo collage by P Stockman was of interest to me because of its surreal and ethereal nature (and because I am a collage artist). It is a tableau that was arranged in photoshop of a stage in an old building that was used for Art-O-Matic in Frederick, MD, there is also a creek running along the bottom and a young girl, appearing more than once who was at the opening.

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“True Colours of Moracco” by Crystal Poteat was one of my favourites because of the commentary on contemporary urban life one could infer by seeing a traditional, North African city scape rife with rooftop satellite discs.

Tam_Losing Control

Jennifer Tam’s photo “Losing Control” is still life of food that we know is not good for us but is set up to look very appealing and sophisticated. The traditional arrangement remind me of Dutch still life paintings while the lighting reminds me of a very slick, glossy magazine photo.

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Jung Kim’s work is even more interesting if you know her back story. She alters herself to pose in self portraits to represent an exaggerated version of the main character in classical Korean folktales. In “Circle II #5” Kim poses as the evil stepmother in a Cinderella type narrative while in “Circle II #3, her hair is silver and her skin is stark white to represent the story of a fox that can never be transformed into a human. It would be better, especially for an American audience, if her titles let us in on the story.

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Klinedinst_Robertson Mountain

Often times, when I see a juried exhibition, I decide without hesitation what I consider to be the best work in the show and like to disagree with the juror. This time, this was not so much the case and I have come to the conclusion that I would have selected Karen Klinedinst’s iphoneography as my choice for Best in Show. I didn’t even know that iphoneography is a word and it taught me that one CAN take good photos with an iphone. Klinedins’t photo is a neo-impressionist, romantic, autumn landscape and could stand on its own amongst plein-air paintings.

I used to tell my son (when he insisted he didn’t need his camera) that I didn’t believe one could take photos with a phone that were just as good as those shot with a camera and now I am convinced. Of course, it depends upon the photographer or iphoneographer.

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After viewing the show, one issue that I wondered about was  why  there were photos that were not framed. Instead they were hung with small binder clips. Call me conservative and I won’t mind, since I am a conservator, but that is the main reason why it does not appeal to me. I could sort of accept this when I saw large scale student work displayed this way, but even then I wasn’t convinced it was appropriate. This series of photos by Shelley and Hermann was so noticeable by this hanging method that it distracts the viewer from the seeing the actual photos.

The next puzzling thing that I saw more than once: photographers entered stretched giclee canvasses. To me, this says “cheap reproduction.” Why didn’t these artists simply send in large scale, framed paper prints? Is their main motivation to save money on framing? It was out of place in this show.

Rollinger, Kristen, BelAir

Furthermore, some of the titles did not help the viewer understand the photographer’s intention and I discussed this with Rollinger, whose photo “Kirsten, Bel Air, MD 2010” leaves us to wonder what the girl, sitting on a couch is doing or thinking about. Rollinger does not want to the title to be the ultimate defining element of his work.

In other cases, such as Kim’s work, a title that lets us know about the story would be helpful and instructional. Nowadays, with titles allowing us to find an artist via a google search, artists should consider their titles carefully, to navigate us to their work.

You can see many of the photos featured on the MFA’s facebook page and when you “like” the page, images will be sent to you every day. It certainly whetted my appetite to see the photos in person.

All in all, it is very strong show and worth seeing. Come to the gallery while you are lobbying your State Legislators in Annapolis during Maryland Arts Day on February 20th.

Focal Point: Fine Art and Creative Photography at the MFA Gallery runs: February 1 – 24, 2013.

Author Anna Fine Foer is an Annapolis-based Visual Artist. View her work here http://www.annafineart.com.