Tim Roda, Hidden Father @Daniel Cooney

JTF (just the facts): A total of 16 black and white photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the front room of the gallery space. All of the works are gelatin silver prints, made in 2015. Physical sizes are either 36×25 or 15×10 (or reverse), and the prints are available in editions of 3 (1 image is unique). (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: On the spectrum of photographers that construct staged scenes, some are exactingly and meticulously precise and others allow more chance and improvisation into the mix. The works of Tim Roda (and his four collaborator/subject sons) fall at the extreme edge of this scale, down where the set-ups nudge against the frontier of uncontrolled chaos. Scavenged and built from whatever might be at hand in a busy household of kids, the rigged settings burst with playful imagination, the kind where broomsticks, ladders, and a lawn mower are all the props needed to create an elaborate and often surreal fantasy world.

Most of Roda’s newest pictures riff on the tradition of “hidden mother” portraits from the 19th century. Given the long exposures of the time, a photographic portrait of a baby or small child was a tricky endeavor – the best strategy was to place the infant in the arms of the mother, who was then enshrouded by a black drape or cloth to remove her distracting presence from the picture. Roda has borrowed this antique approach and adapted it to his own scenes, allowing him to participate in the visual games without becoming the central focus of the action. He is alternately covered by a long haired wig, hiding behind a couch, crouched underneath various bedsheets and tarps, reaching out from a cupboard, and wearing an old globe on his head, forcing the kids and their stories to take center stage.

Part of the charm in Roda’s pictures is to be found in their makeshift roughness – the basement walls, the old Christmas tree, the glare of spotlights, and the spookiness of dark shadows. His shirtless boys seem to roam free in the house like a pack of feral actors, the bare simplicity of the rooms making them a perfect blank canvas for experimental thinking and risk taking. The photographs are executed in contrasty black and white, often with the addition of ripped edges, burned holes and scratches, or spliced together negatives. These interventions are all incorporated into the end point narratives – a slingshot shoots through a burn hole, while the big fish at the end of a pole is hidden by a convenient blob of overexposed white. The mood ranges from goofy handcrafted playacting to more oddball weirdness, like Roger Ballen minus the psychological drama and societal commentary.

What makes these pictures successful is the sense of intertwined collaboration going on. Serious artmaking is simultaneously supported and upended by active play, with layers of familial connections woven into the fabric of the activity. The photographs document an unruly (and often endearing) process, where the whole family works together to tell stories, create laughter, and chase away demons.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced based on size and the place in edition, ranging between $2200 and $4500. Roda’s work has little secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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JTF (just the facts): Published in November 2019 by Dewi Lewis Publishing (here). Hardcover, 192 pages, with 96 color photographs. Includes a small booklet and inserts, with an essay by ... Read on.

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