Interview with photographer Orestes Gonzalez

My first impression of Gonzalez’s photograph of a small figure between large looming shadows of the Trump Towers in Miami was that it had punch. It was timely. It had layers of meaning. When I asked him about the image, and its inclusion in an exhibit, Future Isms, at Glass Box Gallery in Seattle recently, he said, “I’ve always had an aversion to the dark, long shadows that fall on Florida beaches as a consequence of the new tall buildings. These just happen to be Trump buildings, so the irony and timeliness worked to my benefit.” The curator of Future Isms, Jon Feinstein, made a comment that Gonzalez’s work is ‘grounded in discomfort’. But Gonzalez said the comment was not of great consequence to him. “Unless there’s irony or kitschiness involved,” says Gonzalez, “I hate happy pictures. For years I used to see those huge Kodak images blown up inside Grand Central Station and always thought how dull and empty they were.”

 

‘Fishermans House, Miami’ from Intimacy series — © Orestes Gonzalez

It feels to me the aspect of Gonzalez’s work being grounded in discomfort is of more consequence than he might easily admit. Think about the work of Saul Leiter, with its naturalness and unassuming character, with a little bit of Diane Arbus’ street portraits thrown in for some good seasoning. Gonzalez’s work, while being grounded in solid storytelling and visual richness, also has the underlying feeling of throwing off from the stability of the ‘known’… And this is one of his greatest strengths.

‘Dad, Before and After’ from Intimacy series — © Orestes Gonzalez

‘Dad, Before and After’ from Intimacy series — © Orestes Gonzalez

“After I retired as an architect a few years ago at age 51, I started to focus more on my photo work, and only started applying to shows last year. Surprisingly, I got selected to some pretty cool exhibits. One of them, Latin American Fotografia 5, is traveling through four countries in Latin America, and will wind up in Photoville in Brooklyn in the fall.”

Gonzalez also curated the exhibition, Disruption, recently held at The Factory in Long Island City, Queens, NY. Each distinguished artist chosen for the show uses documentary directness, humor, pathos and poetry in their images. Separately, they address the connective topics of lives interrupted, lives cut short, lives spent separated from family, their own cultural identity and of quiet personal sacrifices made every day. They bring the perspective of being outsiders, as well as insiders to the world we live in and sometimes struggle to understand and come to terms with.

 

From ‘Disruption’ – Zaida & Maria Elena, Queens, NY. Two undocumented students were chosen by a committee of teachers to represent their high school in a national student championship in Texas. Selected for their academic excellence, public speaking skills and overall leadership capabilities, these young women qualified for the event by developing an innovative sustainability project.Due to the current political climate, school administrators decided it was unsafe for them to fly to Texas. A less qualified, yet properly documented pair of students went instead.

The more I thought about Gonzalez’s image of the solitary figure on the beach, and much of the rest of his work, more and more layers became evident. Sensitivity to the subject is key, whether it is a person, place or thing. Gonzalez obviously takes many different aspects into consideration when making images. His work shot in the raucous event that is Calle Ocho (an annual Hispanic street festival in Miami, Florida.) is shot on-the-fly as he encounters people and scenes — yet it is clear he has already given thought to the elements that will be in his frame. Gonzalez says, “Be true to yourself. Take on projects close to your upbringing or background. Don’t go after trendy themes just because they are trendy. The more you can personally identify with your subjects the more powerful and honest your work will be. And for God’s sake, don’t be a ‘one-day’ photographer at a place you will never go back to and then create a whole series. The shallowness shows.”

From ‘Calle Ocho‘— © Orestes Gonzalez

“I photograph because I see things that I need to record for myself. Its that simple. I feel that as I got older, I needed to record the things that are important to a baby boomer like myself.” Gonzalez’s inspirations come from photographers and cinematographers alike (especially Italian Cinema: De Sica, Fellini, Bertolucci); and from his experiences growing up as a Cuban American in a bi-cultural environment in 70’s Miami. “And of course, living in NYC since 1987 and seeing all the transformations in these past 30 years drives me to record what’s soon not to be.”

From ‘Whitewashed’ — © Orestes Gonzalez

Similarly, his project based on photographing the home of his uncle, Julio, demonstrates his strong desire to be connected to his subject matter, to understand it better through the act of engaging with it, documenting it, and presenting it in a way that perhaps he and the viewer would not have expected. The project has also been published as a book earlier this year by +KGP.

Gonzalez goes far beyond trying to show stereotypical gritty street images just for the sake of the effect, or shots of people in his community in Long Island, NY or his hometown of Miami, Florida. “I work with images that communicate a past, that tell a story and bring a sense of nostalgia or irony to the viewer. Emotion to me is more important than being factual. It opens up story-telling in much more imaginative ways.”

JULIOS HOUSE, 2011

My Uncle Julio Santana died last year at 82.

In the 50’s he was a magician and a waiter on the ship “Floridita”. It used to ferry Amercican tourists on weekend gambling junkets from Miami to Havana in the evenings.

In the 60’s, he waited tables at the Eden Roc Hotel, and earned enough money to bring his mother, brother and two sisters from Cuba.

He owned a house in a tough, working class neighborhood of Little Havana, but decorated it with his favorite things in the kitschy style of Louis XIV. He would entertain his many friends and lovers with lavish parties and dinners. He was president of the Libertad Lamarque Fan Club for many years, and the Argentine film star, in appreciation, would occassionally meet with him from time to time.

He led a rich and vivid life.

When I asked him what new work was in store, Gonzalez mentioned a long-term project he is still adding work to, Unsettled. He said it deals with leaving and/or entering…disposing one thing you love in order to enter worlds that are more secure. With a statement like that, I return to the belief that the discomforting feeling underlying much of Gonzalez’s work is his bedrock. Without a challenge to the things we believe in, one cannot realize their full meanings.

Cassandra, from ‘Unsettled’ — © Orestes Gonzalez


To see more work by Orestes Gonzalez, please visit his website at http://orestesgonzalez.com

To see more about the book Julio, please visit the publisher’s website at: http://www.krisgravesprojects.com/julio

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Richard Dumas @ Polka Gallery

Miles Davis 1989 © Richard Dumas.

Richard Dumas: Amateur
September 7, 2017

Opening September 7 from 18h to 20h30

Polka Gallery
Cour de Venise · 12, rue Saint-Gilles · Paris 75003 · France

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FAMILIAR STRANGE @ Baxter St at the Camera Club of New York

Two, 2017, Sam Margevicius

FAMILIAR STRANGE:new works by the MFA 2017 graduates from the International Center of Photography-Bard College
June 29 – July 25, 2017

Closing Reception: July 25, 2017 from 6-8 pm

Participating artists are Sasha Louis Bush, Marla Hernandez, Gülsüm Kavuncu, Sam Margevicius, Hyungjo Moon, Cristina Velázquez and Nechama Winston.

Baxter St at the Camera Club of New York
126 Baxter Street
New York, NY 10013

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Keeping Watch @ Colorado Photographic Arts Center

Hasan Elahi, Alert v2, 2017, detail

Keeping Watch
August 4 – September 16, 2017

Opening Reception: Friday, August 4, 6-9pm, with an artist talk by Sheri Lynn Behr and Lauren Grabelle at 7pm

“Keeping Watch highlights the work of three photographers, who approach surveillance from different perspectives. In her project NoMatterWhere, Sheri Lynn Behr points the lens back at the security cameras looking at us to reveal the ubiquitous and pervasive nature of American surveillance systems and how it feels to be watched. Conversely, Photographer X, a series by Lauren Grabelle grapples with issues of voyeurism, as she documents casino life from the perspective of CCTV security cameras. Lastly, Hasan Elahi’s installation Alert V2, examines issues of surveillance, citizenship, migration, and transport. Photography throughout history has been used as a tool to both documentation and surveillance. This exhibition begins to question the varying ways in which our information is collected and shared.”

Colorado Photographic Arts Center
1070 Bannock St, Denver, CO 80204

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Annual Juried Exhibition @ Baxter St at the Camera Club of New York

Keith Anderson

Annual Juried Exhibition
August 17 – September 8, 2017

Juried by Andrianna Campbell

The exhibition of work by the three winners, Keith Anderson, Res, and Qian Zhao, will be on view from August 17th to September 8th, 2017. There will be a closing reception on September 8th with a screening in the backyard of work by the 15 Honorable Mentions listed below.

Honorable Mentions
Shay Arick
Leah Beeferman
Clint Colbert
Samantha Lynn Croteau
William Glaser
Juliana Halpert
Susan Rosenberg Jones
Dani Lessnau
Bollen Rie
Victor Rivera
Ryan Spencer
Caroline Tompkins
Anthony Urrea
Aaron Wax
Cristina Velásquez

Baxter St at the Camera Club of New York
126 Baxter Street
New York, NY 10013

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Charles March @ Hamiltons Gallery

© Charles March

Charles March: Seascape
11 – 16 September 2017

“The ‘feeling’ of a place is what I am most interested in. The sea and the seascape view, looking out across the horizon, never changes – it is an eternal view looking out to infinity. It is, if you like, a very deep look at the earth and how we see it. The sea is also a boundary, a line, something to cross or not. It is calming, inspiring and often dangerous. The exploration of that in-between space is an important part of this for me, the liminal space between sea and shore. In one sense it is always moving and changing and in another it is constant. It is kind of a no-man’s land, a place of transition. Somewhere that exists one minute and not the next – an invisible boundary. At the same time inviting you in and keeping you out, beckoning and dismissing.”
Charles March

Hamiltons Gallery
13 Carlos Place
London W1K 2EU

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André Kertész @ Foam

Nageur sous l’eau, Esztergom, Hongrie, 1917 © André Kertész
Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication / Médiathèque de l’architecture et du patrimoine, Dist Rmn © Donation André Kertész

André Kertész – Mirroring Life
15 September – 6 December 2017

“Anonymous flâneur
At a very early age André Kertész was drawn to the photography he saw in illustrated magazines as a child. In 1912, after his study in Business Administration, he bought his first camera from his first pay cheque. His hobby quickly gained the upper hand. He photographed farmers, gypsies and landscapes and made playful compositions featuring his brothers as extras. Even when he was called into the army in 1914, he took his camera with him. However, the photographs he took during the war sooner resemble a personal diary than a news report. In 1925, he left Hungary and moved to Paris. More than other photographers of his time, such as Jacques Henri Lartigue, who focused on his own flamboyant lifestyle, or Brassaï, who voyeuristically captured the cabarets and forbidden temptations of nocturnal Paris, Kertész worked as an anonymous flâneur. He observed the city, taking in its cafés and parks, or simply looked out of the window of his flat. He photographed his artist friends, shop windows, posters and symbols on the street, shadows cast by trees, passers-by, children playing, a pair of glasses laying on a table – simple things, but always captured from a unique perspective, through which he found poetry in the mundane.”

Foam
Keizersgracht 609
1017 DS Amsterdam

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Rob Love and SoonHoe @ Black Eye Gallery

Surface, SoonHoe

Rob Love and SoonHoe: Luminosity & Momentum
July 18 – August 6, 2017

Opening night- Thursday July 20, 6-8pm

“Rob Love creates breathtaking photographs of the natural interplay of water and light found on the shores of Brighton, Melbourne. He found it surprising to discover the light dance hidden in waves penetrated by rays from a setting sun. Often, he has come back from a photo session astonished with the results.

Rob’s striking colours are complemented by SoonHoe’s black and white
visuals. His work portrays synchronised movement between the translucence of ocean waves and schools of wild fish on the shores of Malaysian fishing islands. Consequently, he produces still images that invoke graceful movement.”

Black Eye Gallery
3/138 Darlinghurst Rd, Darlinghurst 2010 02 8084 75

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Gordon Parks @ Foam

Untitled, Watts, California, 1967 © Gordon Parks / Courtesy of The Gordon Parks Foundation

Gordon Parks – I Am You. Selected works 1942 – 1978
16 June – 6 September 2017

“The camera can be a powerful weapon against repression, racism, violence, and inequality. The American photographer Gordon Parks (1912-2006) referred to the camera as his “weapon of choice” and used photography to expose the deep divisions in American society. Parks was an important champion of equal rights for African Americans and in his work addressed themes such as poverty, marginalisation and injustice. Aside from his iconic portraits of legends like Martin Luther King, he especially achieved fame through his photographic essays for the prestigious Life Magazine and his films The Learning Tree and Shaft. With the exhibition Gordon Parks – I Am You. Selected Works 1942-1978, Foam presents 120 works from the collection of The Gordon Parks Foundation, including vintage prints, contact sheets, magazines, and film excerpts.”

Foam
Keizersgracht 609
1017 DS Amsterdam

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Interview with photographer Ellen Jantzen

Cary Benbow (CB): Can you please explain the idea behind your portfolio images submitted to this Color issue? How do they relate to your other projects, or how is it significantly different?

Ellen Jantzen (EJ): These images are from my “Coming Into Focus” series. I recently  moved from the Midwest where I concentrated on landscapes to New Mexico (specifically Santa Fe). This new environment brought both delight and fear of the unknown. In “Coming Into Focus” I am exploring how one’s environmental surroundings are absorbed into one’s psyche and how this changes through relocations. In these days of refugees relocating from their homelands to distant places, my move from the Midwest to the West may seem trivial, but there are still feelings of dislocation and assimilation that take place.

I am approaching this work as both a window through which I observe my new surroundings and a mirror where I bring my sensibilities to bear, reflecting on my inner state. My work in the Midwest was also dealing with memory.

CB: What are the distortions that appear in your photographs? What do they represent for you; do they have significance beyond their role in your scenes?

EJ: The distortions are my reinterpretation of reality. Reality is considered the state of the world, or of things as they exist. But, what actually exists? Are dreams “real”? Don’t people really experience their dreams? I believe that each person creates his or her own reality in some form.

My concept of reality (as expressed in my work) is a fluid state, ever changing…. Sometimes just out of reach. I feel there are parallel realities that can intersect and blend. I strive to reach outside of the conventional construct of what I real to draw inspiration for my work. This is one of the reasons photography is so compelling to me. It has been considered “truthful” and “real”, so gives me the opportunity of playing with that truth.

CB: There are elements of nature, wildlife, landscape, man’s inclusion/interaction with nature in your work – can you comment on why you choose to depict these elements in the way you do?

EJ: I have always been drawn to nature. Specifically, growing up in the Midwest gave me much to draw upon. The four seasons gave me the opportunity to revisit specific areas throughout the year and to witness vast differences. This directly influenced my memory pieces.

“Why” I depict these elements the way I do is a hard question to answer. Take for instance my attraction to trees…. their longevity can lull us into a false sense of immortality. They are seen as powerful symbols of growth, decay and resurrection…. Human themes for sure! I am beginning to become attached to mountains in much the same way as I was to trees.

CB: What makes still photography your choice of expression? Do you create work in other mediums?

EJ: Before digital cameras I created three-dimensional forms made from recycled paper: basically, sculptures and vessels. I also made jewelry. In fact my first manipulated photographs were of my vessels. I still feel a desire to work with my hands, but photo work is my passion. As all of my work is manipulated in some manner, mainly consisting of many layers – so my work could be considered akin to collage. My earliest college degree was in graphic arts, so I’ve always been drawn to imagery, color and form. The digital camera seemed the perfect instrument to capture images solely for the purpose of unloading them into my computer where my art-forms are created.

CB: What are you currently working on? Any new projects?

EJ: I am developing a continuation of “Coming Into Focus” that deals with migration….. which is a broad subject, but entails nature (animals that migrate), and the personal. I have combined images from different times, different places in my work, but want to emphasize that more.


To see more examples of Ellen Jantzen’s work, visit her website at http://www.ellenjantzen.com/

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