On Monday, my husband and I went to see This Land at Pier 24. Pier 24 is a cool project. It’s halfway between a gallery and a museum, dedicated to photography. It’s free to the public but it requires an appointment. This Land is a 15 gallery show of different photographers whose works were taking in the US in the past decade, and focuses on our current social and economic climate. It’s a truly impressive installation, and I had a few favorites.
Boomtown, by Daniel Postaer, were super-saturated color prints of scenes from different spots around San Francisco. Houses, graffiti, construction cranes and traffic cones are themselves the art around which small and colorless people navigate. One man skates past another, who is asleep on the sidewalk. The color is breath-taking and the city is almost empty of humans.
Border Cantos, by Guillermo Galindo and Richard Misrach, is a subset of a bigger show I saw in San Jose last year, and the works here are a perfect distillation of that larger show. The works focus on the existing border wall, and what the artists found traveling along the wall. The existing transects backyards, beaches, golf courses, the desert and, in one place, nowhere. Galindo constructed musical instruments out of the detritus he found.
Dark Stores, by Brian Ulrich, are sets of photos of the same locations taken at different times. Or different locations that look identical. All of the locations are abandoned architecture of our older boom times. It’s like the flipside of Boomtown: the empty malls and factories that populate our country’s landscape.
What I notice about my favorite collections in this show is how they are the ones that are about objects or buildings, and what those things say about our country right now. Many of the pieces do feature people — depressed white people. Many of these artists are turning their cameras on poor whites in desperate, abandoned places, and almost without fail, the people look sick and depressed. The camera evokes disgust for these people, and I felt angry that the artists chose not to capture the full range of experience that poor white people have. For example, Black River Falls by Alessandra Sanguinetti focuses on the good people of that town. The black and white photos are bleak, and the images of people praying and worshiping suggest that the artist views them as zombies, not people who might be having a spiritual moment that edifies them.
Heat of the Night, by Paolo Pellegrin, is in some ways the opposite of Black River Falls, in that the photos were taken during the summer, and there are Black people, and there is a lot of activity and violence (mostly police brutality). But it evokes the same desperate unhappiness, as if no one in the poor parts of Rochester ever smiles either.
Citizen, by Bruce Gilden, features dozens of portraits of people taken at close range so that we can see every wrinkle, goiter and pimple in excruciating detail. The only person the viewer recognizes is Anthony Weiner, as if to say, that people are ugly inside, too. No one smiles. Is this our land? This set of photos contrast well with a series of Polaroids in the first gallery. Each photograph has been editorialized by its subject, and we learn about the diverse dreams and fears of all kinds of Americans. This is the America I want more of: individual stories woven together in a new flag. The rich tapestry of the humanity, if you will.*
Finally, Darrell and Patricia by Jim Goldberg tells the story of a married couple who discover that they are transgender, and slowly undertake transformative journeys that bring them closer together. It’s definitely the best part of the show.
*My best friend and I have a theory that all stories break down into three types: The rich tapestry of humanity, the triumph of the human experience and the inexorable march of time. Don’t at me.
MEMOIR WRITING PROMPT: Find an old photograph and tell the story about what was happening before, during or after that photo was taken.