The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
The always engrossing Philadelphia Photo Arts Center (PPAC) is currently showing the work of six photographers for their exhibition “99 Days.” This Knight Arts grantee may be gearing down from its gigantic Philly Photo Day project from late last year, but that certainly doesn’t mean putting the brakes on its other programming.
In “99 Days,” artists Stefan Abrams, Gabriel Angemi, Andrew Fillmore, Thilde Jensen, Jay Muhlin and Brian Ulrich produced a series of new images during the not-quite-one-hundred days between August 1 and the Presidential election on November 6. This highly politically charged time period is prime time for both the media and the general social consciousness, providing a fertile landscape for art and documentation.
Andew Fillmore chooses to focus directly on images from the campaign trail, setting the stage for the rest of the show. Teleprompter-like shots of the Gettysburg Address and surreal stills of Mitt Romney and Clint Eastwood’s huge, projected likenesses at the Republican Convention provide a sort of backstage perspective on the festivities. Here the candidate and his associates seem more like abstractions than the personas they aim to exude – or perhaps they are really one in the same. Fillmore also turns the tables on the media, capturing scenes of bright lights, bulky video cameras, and the backs of interviewee’s heads. In the world of news and information, his targets would be unorthodox at best.
On the opposite end of the spectrum of representation is Jay Muhlin. His frozen bits of ephemera reflect more of the street level and the day-to-day than the grandiose speeches of elected representatives. White PVC pipes hissing steam, a lonely yellow shopping cart, and discarded plastic cups collectively form a mise-en-scène for the lives of the masses, even in the face of the seemingly never-ending barrage of political pandering.
Most of the others in the show turn their lenses on what is surely most important to the political process: the people. Brian Ulrich’s photos from the outside of retail and food chains demonstrate the preoccupations of many Americans’ lives. Whether waiting outside of a clothing store or participating in the national discourse by purchasing poultry (see: Chik-fil-A meets Fox News), the almighty dollar still inundates much of what we do.
Stefan Abrams exposes the beauty of the individual with unique scenes of anonymous characters and scrawling graffiti. Photographs of tags convey the hand and signature of their faceless authors while portraits fill in the gaps. In one, the muscled back of a shirtless man provides sharp contrast to a wheelchair-bound woman smoking outside of a Burger King. These images could arise practically anywhere in America and their honesty makes them resonate.
On Saturday, February 9th, Brian Ulrich will be on hand for a book signing and lecture at the PPAC space in the Crane Arts Building at 6 p.m. “99 Days” will be on display through February 23.
Philadelphia Photo Arts Center is located in the Crane Arts Building at 1400 N. American St., Philadelphia; firstname.lastname@example.org; philaphotoarts.org.