Photography-based artist Kris Sanford and book artist Beata Wehr have a show at the Burton Barr library in Phoenix called titled “Cover to Cover.” Since I’m familiar with Kris, I’m going to focus solely on her. Kris is an artist who frequently uses found imagery- specifically old photos found at antique stores- to draw connections from the cultures of the past to the present, and to highlight gender identity subtexts in those images.I first saw her work when she spoke to one of my ASU classes in 2005. Later, we alternated days as long term substitutes for a high school photography classroom. Lots of memo notes went back and forth but we never met formally. As with most artists, if they do something that interests me I keep up with their work as well as made small attempts at using a style, sort of like trying on unusual clothes to see if one looks any good in them. Every so often I will pick up old family photos from antique stores with the idea they would someday become part of some grand art idea.
In this series, Kris cuts out physical prints of her vernacular images and rephotographs them amongst the pages of her Grandpa’s journal. Sometimes the words are the point of focus, sometimes the characters, sometimes both; the viewer stays engaged by trying to decipher the words and meaning of the journal entries.
I recently did some diorama-style images where I cut out the photos and placed them in a real world environment, so seeing another artist do something along the same lines felt like a validation of the concept. Mixing past elements with actual journal writing- and the physical journal supporting the images- make this one of the most personal displays of photography one can view, one that is more unique and deeper than simply showing the best snapshots of the artist’s personal life. It’s a consistent and complete show.
My only caveat is that I recognize small bits of the cut out images from stuff I had seen back in 2006. It probably comes across as nitpicking to say I would’ve liked to have seen entirely new material rather than recycled elements. Most artists spend years developing styles and building series up, but for myself, I feel like the only valid work is whatever I had done in the previous 6 months, so of course I unfairly project my feelings on other people. It very well may be the challenge associated with using vernacular images as art making material- there’s only so much of it around, and such a small percentage of that usuable for art, and an even more miniscule amount suitable for a specific point the artist wants to make.
“Cover to Cover,” March 23 – May 31 at the library’s @Central Gallery, 1221 N. Central Ave