Pinch me if I’m dreaming, but walking down the mall of Charlottesville last night was like being in Arles in the late 1970s. Photographers everywhere, clumps of them, sitting at outdoor cafes as the heat of the day left the pavement, a palpable sense of excited anticipation before Mary Ellen Mark’s talk at the Paramount. True, the C’ville mall is larger than the Place du Forum, and few were imbibing Perrier menthes, but there were plenty of gypsy-style vendors lending an air of exoticism to the whole thing. All that was missing was the sight of a young Ralph Gibson holding court surrounded by a bevy of eager, attractive admirers.
This is the third edition of Look, and it really has gotten its act together much faster than the storied Rencontre of Arles ever did. Besides Mary Ellen’s talk, the night was filled with galleries staying open past dark, an open-air slide show, pictures hanging from trees, and a party at the Second Street Gallery for those in the know. U.Va chipped in this year with a photo show at the art museum, thank you. (I guess you figured that out, since the museum is hosting this site.) I gave a gallery talk at the opening before heading downtown
I managed to miss Mary Ellen in conversation with Alex Chadwick (hey, I would have needed a ticket, and I needed a drink after my talk more), but I did peek in on her show at the McGuffey Art Center. You go girl: Mark’s prom pictures, taken with Polaroid’s 20 by 24 camera using black-and-white peel-apart emulsion, are some of her best work ever. Some of the peculiar couples and groups are locals (Charlottesville HS, to be precise), and Mark’s eye for the Arbus-like among us is darned remarkable. The Art Center also is hosting a show of Jeff Jacobson’s work (good to know he’s still in business), Lori Grinker’s powerful “After War” pictures (Iraq amputees, in unflinching detail), and the usual, though condensed, “Eyes of History” award-winners from the White House News Photographers. Too bad the Newsy’s don’t add Grinker to their idea of what photojournalism can be.
I took too quick a peek at James Nachtwey’s show at Les Yeux du Monde gallery (that’s “Eyes of the World,” or something like it, for you English speakers) to be able to say anything more than you need to see it, but he’s on tap for Saturday night’s Paramount lecture so he can talk about the work himself. Joel-Peter Witkin, he of the hyphenated first name, has what amounts to a mini-retrospective at Second Street that reminds me how bizarre his work once seemed. Trouble is, when it first appeared there was no such thing as PhotoShop, and you knew that his models, armless, legless (is this a theme of the festival this year?) and usually naked, were the real deal. Witkin’s own move into digital (see “Night on the Town,” 2007, with a female centaur creature) seems to me to pull the ground out from beneath of all his prior work. Too bad, if you ask me.
Pictures in trees: Look, I’m a big fan of Flip Nicklin’s underwater photographs of whales, dolphins, etc., having seen them at National Geographic gatherings past, but hanging them in shrubbery makes no sense to me. The prints don’t look nearly as vivid and vital as the same images projected, and I had to crane my neck and dodge pedestrians to see them. Next time, why not put prints of trees up in the trees? Or get pigs to fly.
As for the Second Street party: missed it. Had to go home to write this post. But the party seemed already started by the time the sun hit the Blue Ridge. Needless to say, Nick Nichols and Jessica Nagle have done a great job and are on to something big!