Idaho Arts Quarterly » Of Note

"Smoke and Mirrors: the magic of photography spanning the decades"

Through January 29, 2010 at Gilman Contemporary

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Photography has a somewhat contentious existence in the world of fine art. Especially today, when digital cameras have made Everyman a photographer and littered the walls of countless coffee shops with the questionable results of their derivations, many galleries shy from the medium.

A recent write-up in The New Yorker of the Yao Lau/Aaron Siskind/John Wood show at Silverstein Gallery gave a jolt to fans of the medium with a staunch reminder: "But in the back room, a group of vintage Siskind photographs of found Abstract Expressionism images blows everything else—in the gallery, on the street, and in Chelsea—away." (November 23, 2009). It turns out that the greats are still great.

Gilman Contemporary reminds us of the unique power of the camera in the right hands with "Smoke and Mirrors: the magic of photography spanning the decades." The show features the work of William Klein, Melvin Sokolsky, Chris Jordan, Julie Blackmon, Laurie Victor Kay and Jeri Eisenberg. Visitors to the gallery are immediately struck by the familiar images of William Klein that established the heyday of Vogue in the 1950s: black and white shots that capture the smoke veiling a woman's hatted form, and the backward glance of a fashionista that somehow defines the elusive idea of what it means to dress. Klein's work is owned by the Guggenheim Museum, Museum of Modern Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The title of his book Close Up and In and Out of Focus could be used to describe the attempts of countless lesser talents that have followed in his footsteps.

The work of the contemporary artists is intriguing—Blackmon's suburban fantasies have a liveliness that give a sense of movement to her stills--but the presence of the digital, in form and color, belie the origins of the spectacle.

The stunners are the Sokolsky works: giant black and white prints from 1963 that show models encased in bubbles in street (or river) scenes throughout Paris. He has credited Hieronymous Bosch with inspiring these creations, but they are so marvelously modern that they float into a realm of their own. Sokolsky's work with Harper's and Kodachrome 10 have left an indelible mark on the way that we view the world, and on photography as one of the finest of arts.

Gallery owner L'Anne Gilman has been a collector of photography for over 20 years. "When the opportunity came to exhibit the work of Melvin Sokolsky and William Klein, I thought it would be important to include a variety of photographers over the decades who have influenced the medium," says Gilman. "It is a dream show for me, to exhibit such influential photographers."