Four photographers, four worlds

In Franklin Art Works’ main gallery, the bright colors of a glitzy billboard in China face off with almost claustrophobic black and white shots of salt pouring onto a table. The bare minimalist whites and grays of a Canadian blizzard stand in opposition to a blistering hot day in Cairo, Egypt as viewed from its rooftops.

Most exhibitions of artwork have a theme or uniting element that binds them together, even if it’s only a word like “landscape” or “poverty.” In the case of Franklin Art Works’ latest show, which opens tonight, that word is “McKnight.” All four photographers in this group show received a grant of $40,000 from the McKnight Foundation back in 2008. And that’s pretty much where their similarities end.

“It’s like herding kittens in a way,” laughs Franklin Art Works director Tim Peterson. “Or, shall we say, a bit of a shotgun marriage, but a wonderful one, because it’s about exploration.”

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Osama Esid

“Market City,” 2007

Osama Esid’s sepia-toned photographs capture with a nostalgic eye the strange architectural mish-mash of present day Cairo, where freeways bisect neighborhoods littered with ancient ruins. Esid (who has a solo show coming up next week at Gallery 13) uses a 1920s vintage camera to shoot photographs called “sun prints.” It’s a fitting method for an artist who occupies himself primarily with documenting life in the Middle East. Esid was born and schooled in Damascus and worked in Paris and Madrid before moving to the U.S. He lives and works in Minneapolis, and maintains a studio in Cairo.

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Priscilla Briggs

“Opening Soon” (Grand Gateway Mall, Shanghai), 2008

McKnight fellow Priscilla Briggs teaches art and art history at Gustavus Adolphus, but keeps finding herself back in China, documenting the surge in capitalism that’s gripping its cities. Tim Peterson says Brigg’s work focuses particularly on advertising:

And the advertising is on a massive scale. Here we take it for granted, but there it’s startling. It’s really about the intersection of western capitalism and eastern communism. Her work feels like an immersive 360° view into a changing culture, and its changing desires.

Briggs’ “Fortune” series juxtaposes the legacy of communism and the bright shiny lure of capitalism as represented by the massive shopping malls appearing all over the country.

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Justin Newhall

Cold War Era Radar, Fort Churchill, MB, 2008

While Briggs images capture the rich opulence of a country in the midst of a consumer revolution, Justin Newhall occupies himself with the detritus left behind in the desolate Canadian town of Churchill, Manitoba. Newhall was inspired by Glenn Gould’s 1967 radio documentary “The Idea of North” to travel the western shore of Hudson Bay for four years. There he wandered through abandoned science stations and dislocated settlements, tracked polar bears and took pictures in which the landscape is barely visible through blinding snow.

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David Goldes

smoke ring, 2009

Perhaps the most stark images of all in this exhibition are those of David Goldes. His dark, laboratory set-ups attempt to document the physical actions and reactions that we often take for granted: adding salt to our meal, blowing a smoke ring from a cigarette, or a plastic bag swept up by the air. Goldes’ images strip these actions down to their barest form, in what feels – to this viewer – like an almost obsessive desire to understand the nature of things.

While these artists share little more than a camera and a grant, they each afford the viewer a journey into another world. Whether it’s the heights of Chinese consumerism, or rooftop views of an ancient city under transformation or the sad relics of an attempt make a life in a harsh northern climate. In the case of Goldes “experiments,” he takes us on a journey into the interior of a photographer’s mind.

“2008 McKnight Artist Fellowhips for Photographers” opens tonight at Franklin Art Works with a reception from 7 to 9pm. In conjunction with the exhibition Franklin Art Works has organized a series of photography workshops for area high school students, taught by past McKnight fellows.

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