Kris Sanford: Between the Lines show review

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

Inspiration: Dave McKean + Glass Olive

Glass Olive

Even before I kept track of what artists’ styles looked like, as a kid I loved Dave McKean’s comic book covers.  The blend of photography, illustration and design was absolutely unique in the late 80s when his work graced the front of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.  There’s bits of surrealism and bits of gritty rawness that grounded the dreamy atmosphere.  Several times I have attempted to take my photography in steps towards a McKean-like vision of subconscious mixed media.

"Umbilicus" by Dave McKean

One of my favorite series of his is the “Small Book of Black and White Lies.”  Vintage toned images in a square format, very stripped down.  I’ve shown it to several potential collaborators and some got it, some didn’t, but I never was able to achieve anything remotely like it.  Then I came across model and artist Glass Olive in Portland, who had a fairly clear influence of Dave in her personal art.

by Glass Olive

Not much else to say except this was a model who indulged every weird idea I threw at her and turned it into something way better than I had envisioned.

Glass Olive and the bugeye bra

The next collaboration is in a month in LA, so far involving body paint, latex and swimsuit designers, hair forms, unicycles, a gothic photo studio, rubber ducks, and a white afro laden with vegetables.  Quite a step beyond the original McKean influence, but it’s great when the unusual aesthetics of one artist helps to bring other artists together.

Glass Olive

4×5 Alt Process Diptychs

There is something unique about paired images– such as mugshots, or before/ after type of shots- that has always sparked my imagination.  It’s a bit more mental gymnastics to view multiple images and get a larger picture.  It may have to do with my love of sequential art in comic form, or having an established film/ darkroom background where contact sheets tell stories of the shoot and the events taking place before the camera.

The gist of this project, still in its infancy, is 4×5 diptych portraits, with the final prints as alternative process prints.  I made overtures at printing these as van dyke brown prints, but it was easier to work with cyanotype and convert them to a more van dyke-looking style in the computer.  There is some irony that I still rely on the computer to get the final look of these alternative process images, but seeing how they are far more likely to be viewed via electronic means, I don’t care too much.

As for the “who” and the “why,” well, I’m starting this with the models I encounter, hoping to branch out into a wider variety of people I meet either in travel or close family members or whoever.  The attempt will be to include this and a polaroid of each shoot I do, and see where the collection takes me.  Although I started this before I saw these images, I found these Australian criminals truly inspiring and love the collection they have made from photos not neccessarily intended as art.

Diana F vs. the App

The climax of the movie Gattaca is a scene where 2 brothers– one genetically modified to perfection, the other a natural man– swim a race in the ocean, with the natural man defeating the perfect one because he calculate on saving any energy for a return trip.  It’s a lesson about being too perfect, and how unpredictability can trump design.

In a similar vein, I wanted to see how a shoddily made plastic camera from Lomo- the Diana F- stacked up against the free Retro Camera application found on my phone (comparable to the Iphone “Hipstamatic” app).

The Diana was a cheap Chinese medium format camera which has 4 aperture settings, one being a pinhole, and a few focus settings which swing from side to side if you don’t pay attention.  It’s a precursor to the more famous Holga medium format camera, also available from Lomo.  The lomography aesthetic is one of the Happy Accident, fun is the priority, and the joy of getting one’s film back and seeing what went wrong, where the lightleaks landed– that’s the icing on the cake. 

Shooting around the Emerald City Comicon last week, I was asked a few times about my camera, and having something strange around your neck is a good way to break the ice.  I don’t think a stranger has ever asked me about my phone.

 The downside is, film is expensive, developing is expensive, I’m stuck with the limited number of shots and I don’t take my camera everywhere I should unless I intend on shooting .

Now, the omnipresent cell phone and its sundry apps.  I’m lucky enough to even remember that I have a camera on my phone, it does so much.  It has all the benefits of digital photography and, in the words of my non-photographer Wife, “(the retro camera app) makes me look like I’m any good.”   

The Retro Camera App has 5 cameras to choose from (Xoladroid 2000, Barbi, Pinhole, Little Orange Box, Fudgecan), as well as “black and white” or “color” options.  The whole process of choosing your camera, shooting and developing is a graphics hoot.   Even when the camera gear is packed away, my phone is close enough to get a shot like this one of Mt. Rainier.

I’m the kinda guy who’ll take photos any way I can because I love it all, but that said, the promise of something funky and accidental doesn’t come through in the Retro App.  It can’t lightleak frame numbers on my film, do infinite panorama, accidentally double expose, and physical damage like scratches (which can add to a degraded image)  are missing from the app photos.  It’s a bit of a surprise with how the image comes out, but nowhere near as exciting as the anticipation as I have on the drive to Tempe Camera Lab to get the film back.

When you want to truly lose control and fuck up your photos, lomography is the way to go.

Mark Newport/ mixed media with fabrics

When I attended ASU, my wife Vesna and I caught a show at the museum of the fabrics professor Mark Newport.  Mark’s work features mainstream comic art and concepts in new ways– he knits actual costumes and is photographed wearing them or in process of creating them, and he crochets on actual comic covers. 

Mark Newport w Catwoman

Partly because of my love of comics and partly because Mark is so cheeky and damn good at his craft, the show has burned brightly in my mind for years, and I’ve long wanted to work fabrics into my photos as a mixed media piece somehow.  My wife Vesna, who does fabrics, has long lamented we hadn’t done a true collaberative art piece, so we created a shoot with model Hattie Watson with more than a bit of miming.


We’re still in the process of creating final images, but I’m already getting new ideas for refining the concept and exploring more stitched environments.

Inspired Vision: Brett Weston + Sonya Noskowiak

Phoenix Art Museum is currently hosting a show of two people influenced by Edward Weston- his son Brett and his ex lover Sonya Noskowiak.  It’s all large format work, and just to drive the point home, they have one of Brett’s gigantic view cameras and actual film (both negative and positive) on display.

image by Brett Weston

I love large format.  It’s so goddamn hard to work with.  I tried shooting animals with a 4×5 and of course it didn’t work, unless they were skeletons.  I recently tried a model shoot with one and the model didn’t get that one cannot move from their spot at all during the process of composing, focusing, setting the shutter, inserting the film, and tripping the release.  Even experienced people aren’t used to that laborious process, although it’s not so much the model’s fault as my dog distracting her with a tennis ball.

Back to the show, Sonya was represented by portraits of creative types– truly not my thing, so I’m not qualified to judge her work– and Brett had more variety with landscapes and abstracts.  I hate to quantify their work with those generalizations, so a googling of work would be in order.  The focus seemed a celebration of the process and the relationships to Edward, but some images do stick out in my head, particularly the graphic impact of Brett’s abstractions.  Clouds are like lava lamp blobs, sand dunes are sound waves, villages are shattered paintings. 

image by Brett Weston

Any inclusion of design elements gives me a cornicopia of ideas on how I would like to portray fashion or travel or documentary photography.  A great work of art should be able to represent something beyond itself, and have some room for interpretation by the audience, and that’s what I love about Brett’s work, perhaps more than his famous father.

image by Brett Weston