JTF (just the facts): A group show consisting of the work of 3 photographers, variously framed and matted, and hung against white walls in a series of three connected rooms on the entire upper level of the museum. Starting at the entry to the exhibit, there are a total of 13 photographs by Chien-Chi Chang from his series China Town. 6 are gelatin silver prints and the other 7 are chromogenic prints. They are all framed in silver with no mat and hung edge to edge as diptychs and triptychs based on the relationships of the families depicted. The works were taken between 1998 and 2008. In the side room, there are a total of 11 photographs by Greg Girard from his series Half the Surface of the World. All of the prints are chromogenic prints, framed in silver with no mat. The works were taken between 2008 and 2009. And in the main space, there are a total of 12 images by Anna Shteynshleyger from her series City of Destiny. All of the prints are archival inkjet prints, framed in brown wood with no mat. The works were taken between 2002 and 2011. No dimension or edition information was provided for any of the works on view. Since photography is unfortunately not allowed in the ICP galleries, the images for this show come via the ICP website. (Photographs by Chien-Chi Chang, Greg Girard, and Anna Shteynshleyger, top to bottom, respectively.)
Comments/Context: This year’s version of the ICP’s annual Perspectives show gathers together three bodies of recent work that revolve around the idea of transplanted communities and the process of creating a feeling of home in a new environment. It’s a loose theme that allows for divergent photographic approaches and cultural contexts.
Chien-Chi Chang’s contrasting images of fathers working in New York and families back in China are the most successful. The men are photographed in black and white, sitting in cramped dormitories after a day of hard work, drinking beer, eating noodles, and calling home. The women and children are photographed in color, wives caring for babies, girls watching TV and lounging around. The contrast of these two worlds documents the dislocations that are occurring, where distance impedes communication and sacrifices are being made on both sides in the hopes of something better for the family. I liked the down time simplicity of these pictures, where the quiet loneliness of the subjects comes through.
Greg Girard’s photographs follow in a long line of military base photography, but center not so much on the juxtaposition of opposing cultures but on the attempt to create a slice of the United States in far away lands. At bases in Korea and Japan, he finds big box stores, sculpted suburbs with manicured lawns, regulation US Postal Service mail boxes, ATMs and Pepsi trucks. Kids play on residential sidewalks, and American style news comes from military TV anchors and the Stars and Stripes newspaper. His images have the atmosphere of a surreal stage set, where small details of the underlying local world poke through at odd moments.
Anna Shteynshleyger’s images of her life in an Orthodox Jewish community in Des Plaines, Illinois, are the most understated and subtle, to the point of being less durably memorable. The photographs are opaque and closed, the meanings less identifiable: a bare lightbulb in a room, carnations on a windowsill, a bird’s nest on the hood of a car, an uncle standing in the greenery, a still life of backyard leftovers and pink Crocs. From these images, I was less able to connect with the narrative being told, or to resonate with the particular nuances of this cultural world and its challenges. I needed a few more clues to understand why these moments mattered.
All three of these projects likely function best in book form, where an aggregation of images can tell a broader and more robust story. That said, Chang’s photographs will resonate most with me going forward, as I think he was most able to document the complexities of the underlying emotional state of an uprooted, transplanted life.
Collector’s POV: This is a museum show, so of course, there are no posted prices. In general, these three photographers have little or no consistent secondary market history; as such, gallery retail is likely the only option for interested collectors at this point. Chien-Chi Chang is part of Magnum; his vintage and modern prints are available directly from the Magnum Print Room (here) or via the Chi-Wen Gallery in Taipei (here). Greg Girard is represented by Monte Clark Gallery in Vancouver and Toronto (here). Anna Shteynshleyger is represented by Dvir Gallery in Tel Aviv (here).