Dec 4, 2011

REVIEW | (Re) Collection, Lakes Were Rivers Photography Show

Ben Ruggiro, Windows as Viewed #71: Migrant Mother Dorthea Lange, 1936
Window Etching, Cyanotype Contact Print. Harry Ransom Center, 2011

(Re) Collection was a photography exhibit produced by the Austin based Lakes Were Rivers photography collective. The group curated the show as part of the East Austin Studio Tours. Their aim was to "re-envision images from the Harry Ransom Center archive. Each artist in the collective provided a unique interpretation of old photographs from the H.R.C.

The show also included a series of drawings "My Town", by Chris Cody. The artist has downs syndrome. His vivid colors and loose drawing style stood in stark contrast to the quiet organization of the rest of the show. At first I found the contrast too striking. But in the context of E.A.S.T., where artists exhibit their work along with their works in progress and often their methods and raw materials, I found that Chris Cody's work complemented the rest of the show.

I read some reviews of the show after I went. Some critics found that (Re) Collection was "too academic". I want to argue against this point, because I believe critics found trouble with the problem solving approach to curating, as if it were a college assignment. The artists were given the same problem to address in their response to the Harry Ransom Center archives, but this allowed for a variety of themes to have a dialogue in the same space without compensating the show's cohesive structure. I think it's a smart approach to curating a show by a large art collective. I am an undergraduate at Texas State, however, and most of my artistic understanding comes from the academic arena. Also, half of the people in Lakes Were Rivers and photography teachers from my school. Still, I think the idea of problem solving in a collective environment is not new, nor is it limited to academia.

Some examples of the photographs in the show were Ben Ruggiero's cyanotype of Dorthea Lange's Migrant Mother, from 1936. Ben used the etchings outside of the H.R.C.'s glass to create this photograph. He was able to capture a larger value scale than I have seen used in that medium. His craftwork is kind of remarkable. There was also Adam Schreiber's untitled inkjet print of noodles being pulled up by floating chopsticks.  Schreiber plays with form in this photograph, as his chosen archival reference was a photograph of an octopus in a cave, entitled La Photographique des Animaux Aquatques, by Fabre Domergue.

The artists names were not printed next to the photographs, nor were their antique reference points. It was difficult at first to determine some of the artists intentions if the titles played an important role in their understanding. A list was provided, and gallery visitors could walk around and try to determine who did what. At the end of the night I was not sure if this obstacle was necessary. Overall, however, I enjoyed the smart, playful approaches to archival photography.

-Noelle Fitzsimmons


  1. Really neat and interesting, glad you did this. Always nice to see a post on something unique.

    - Erin Davis

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  3. This is really interesting. I wish I would have seen it myself. You did spell Ben Ruggiero's name wrong under the photograph. But this seems like it would have been really cool to see.

    -Brittany Drake

  4. I love the idea of re-imagining photos from the H.R.C, but I don't understand how there would be a complaint about being too academic though.

    -Meagan McLendon

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  6. the Migrant mother photos were always really fascinating to me considering there were plenty of other shots taken at the same time. The cyanotype definitely puts a unique look to it.

    -Stephen Durham

  7. Many times I find the shows I enjoy the most are deemed "too academic" by art critics. I really enjoyed your information on Chris Cody. I looked into his art after reading your post and I think the review could have really benefited from some more images.
    -Marian Mabry

  8. I agree with Marian that this post could have used more images. I tried to google Chris Cody but couldn't find anything. Where did you find him Marian?

    ~Jill Ewing