The Silent Lives of Found Photographs

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DENVER — Artists source their images from everywhere, from thrift store bins to bulk sales on eBay and forgotten family albums. In the exhibition Source Materialcurated by Jon Feinstein and Hyperallergic contributor Roula Seikaly, eight photography-based artists alter existing photographs in such subtle ways that multiple stories exist in a single frame an approach that sets these artists apart from their predecessors of the Pictures Generation or even the Dada deconstructionists. The result is a stark confrontation between the obscure lives of silent subjects and the old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words.” How can both exist together?

Several artists in the exhibition gently insert their own hands and bodies into the frame as the only modification to the original. Julie Lee interrupts the gaze of her family by pressing her thumbs and bandaged fingers upon the smiles in school pictures and vacation poses in cutesy frames. With the faces obscured, the image is a void where a connection was intended — an uncanny reversal of the viewer’s and subject’s function. Lee’s action is both protective and violent as it asserts memory’s dependance on vision. 

Ina Lounguine (left to right) “Foolin’ Around,” “Heartaches,” “What Will I Tell My Heart” (2017), inkjet print on Satin Photo Paper Infinity Canson 310g with Handmade Braille Embossing (image courtesy the artist and Colorado Photographic Arts Center)

Artist Ina Lounguine transforms something made to be seen into one that favors touch by embossing handmade braille onto formal wedding photos found at a yard sale. Lounguine retained the color palette of the original negative film, presenting a bride in a black gown with empty eyes that glow against blue skin. The inverted image whispers about misgivings, and the paper’s raised surface teases a story illegible to the eye.

While the mind works desperately to fill the gaps in these lost stories, the artists’ interventions seem to produce even more secrets. Found photos compel us to consider their origins and why they became untethered from their maker or owner. How artists harness that separation is a contribution as meaningful as any previous photographic movement. 

Jody W. Poorwill, “Projected” (2017), archival pigment print (image courtesy the artist and Colorado Photographic Arts Center)
Alayna Pernell, “No Longer Peter Cohen’s Property #16” (2020), archival inkjet print (image courtesy the artist and Colorado Photographic Arts Center)

Source Material continues at Colorado Photographic Arts Center (1070 Bannock Street, Denver) through September 25. The exhibition is curated by Jon Feinstein and Roula Seikaly.

Depends on who’s doing the subverting.

As funding organizations prioritize participatory public art processes and creative engagement, we might look George Rhoads’s corpus as an instigator of engagement.

Both The Lost Leonardo and Savior for Sale dig into how museums and galleries are not merely complicit with the unregulated art-industrial complex, but are necessary to it.

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