JTF (just the facts): A total of 10 black-and-white and color photographs, framed in dark wood and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space and the entry area. All of the works are UV-laminated archival inkjet prints mounted on Dibond, made in 2020 or 2021. Physical sizes are either 40×30 inches (or the reverse), 40×32 inches (or the reverse), or 40×40 inches, and the prints are available in editions of 3+2AP.
The show also includes two sculptural works. One is an interrupting wall, made of screen print and UV inks on MDF, archival inkjet print on adhesive vinyl, wood, and hardware, made in 2022. Its dimensions are roughly 96x72x6 inches. The other is a cube that sites in the middle of the main gallery, made from screen print ink on painted MDF, archival inkjet print on vinyl on LED backlit acrylic, made in 2022. Its dimensions are 64x48x48 inches.
(Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: As Elliott Jerome Brown Jr. gets further into his career as a photographer, his images (and their possible meanings) are getting increasingly sophisticated and nuanced. Building on the success of his two New York gallery shows in 2019 (reviewed here and here), this show continues his exploration of the structures of photographic portraiture, in particular by experimenting with different modes of indirect expression.
The show begins with a handful of portraits, each composed with a sense of controlled misdirection. Brown uses a pebbled window to make a ghostly reflection of an unseen sitter, looks steeply down at two smiling faces lit from underneath, and captures a man wearing a yellow hat through the misty window of a bus. In each scene, he offers us something indistinct or fragmentary, not definitively filling out a narrative backstory, but instead leaving room for interpretive imagination.
Two sculptural works take this open-ended motif and expand it into three physical dimensions. In one work, Brown creates a two sided wall that juts into the gallery space and blocks the passageway. On the front side, he houses several allusive prints (an extended leg, green stems in a vase, a fogged scene in light blue) in the two-by-four infrastructure, once again offering us pieces of an undefined visual puzzle; on the other side, he places a confusing upward view of two men embracing (with coloring pages affixed to what appears to be the underside of the table?), wrong-footing us even further, before turning us toward the main gallery space. In the next room, a large white box sits in the center of the gallery, its sides covered with faint white-on-white imagery that only partially resolves, even up close. The effect is something akin to memories of a place or a time that have now faded to the point of near obscurity, that reflective mood punctuated by a small backlit black-and-white image cut out of one side of the box, revealing a smiling man underneath a tender touch, seemingly bringing a warmer (and perhaps forgotten) connection back into sharp focus.
Brown then picks up the theme of tactile gesture and expands it in several nearby photographs. The push and pull of a scuffle (or an attack or a fight?) becomes a fluid arrangement of parallel arms and angled legs seen as dark silhouettes. The delicate application of eye makeup (or some other skin treatment) is supported by an intimate cupping of the chin and a gentle twist of shadowed masculinity. And in one of the strongest images in the show, the crisp whiteness of a pleated shirt cuff and nearby bed sheets provides a disorienting environment for a hand softly placed against a cheek. In each of these compositions, Brown uses the contrasts and subtleties of Black skin as a foil for his studies of movement and contact.
The remaining works on view move back to black-and-white, using monochrome tonalities to explore the opposing absence of touch and presence. All three pictures offer images of settings where the central figure has seeming left the scene – a shadowy bed with an empty pillow, a window with a fringe of hanging curtain and a reflected plant, and a textural study of what looks like mesh or canvas, with perhaps a faint echo of darker staining. Seen in the context of the other images of human connection, these three feel lonely, in a sense capturing the lack (or deprivation) of touch with similar compassion.
As an integrated artistic statement or body of work, this show feels much more concise and unified than Brown’s previous efforts – while a range of approaches are being explored here, there is a clear coherence to how all the pieces fit together and complement each other. By deliberately taking oblique angles into portraiture, Brown is trying to find his own voice in a crowded and well trod genre of photography, and these new works once again deliver glimpses of intriguing innovation. Step by step, he’s making progress, methodically refining and condensing his ideas into something durably his own.
Collector’s POV: The photographic prints in this show are priced at either $12000 or $14000, based on size. Brown’s work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.