Feature | Faces Of Photography: Walking The Line Between Art & Artifact

Martín Gutierrez, “Girlfriends (Anita & Marie 1-7)”,  2014.

With the advent of digital photography, the act of constructing and recording life has become a language all its own as it can be created without cost in the hands of anyone who has a phone. Its very ubiquity demands a new level of discourse as our literacy is enhanced by increased exposure to the form.

The photography possesses an uncanny ability walk the line between art and artifact, between object and evidence, between commerce and catharsis, depending on who you are. Photography has come a long way since it’s invention in the early nineteenth century as a means to capturing the impression of light and shadow upon paper, using it as a means to record the world and elevating it to the realm of fine art, where some works sell for millions at auction, its value becomingly increasingly established by dealers and collectors alike.

While at Art Basel Miami 2015, Crave to a hard look at the evolution of photography in our time, speaking with photographers David Alan Harvey, Martín Gutierrez, and Wyatt Gallery and about the way in which photography has transformed our lives.

Magnum photographer David Alan Harvey thrives on the spirit of innovation and discovery, while possessing the heart of a poet and an eye of the gods. His first book, Tell It Like It Is, self-published in 1967, documented the lives of a black family living in Norfolk, Virginia. Five decades later, Harvey continues to blaze his own path, photographing intimates and strangers alike for his work on exhibition in “Beach Games” at HistoryMiami Museum as part of the Miami Street Photography Festival, on view through January 17, 2016.

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Harvey combines the tenants of street photography, which assert the artist as narrator who captures the decisive moment without missing a beat, with the artist as novelist, showing scenes from an epic story that unfolds over time. By combining “fact” with “fiction”, Harvey allows us to consider the exhibition as a whole of part of a larger journey of an artist who transverses the earth bearing witness and sharing stories with photographs.

Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) graduate Martín Gutierrez has taken the staged photograph to new heights with a series of vibrantly constructed self-portraits with infinite layers, like Russian nesting dolls. Gutierrez lives and works in New York, creating documents of transformation and performance that explore ideas about the feminine as both inherent understanding as well as a construction of the mind, on view at Ryan Lee Gallery’s booth during the PULSE Contemporary Art Fair.

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Beginning with a vision in the mind’s eye, Gutierrez exacts every detail of that image in the stage she sets. Surrounded by mannequins dressed in the same outfit, one does not immediately see Gutierrez in the crowd. Instead one first perceives the milieu itself, the slumber party, the cocktail party, the luau. And then, maybe you notice that one of these mannequins is real. It’s at that moment that the first layer slips away, and another reveals itself. It’s in this way that Gutierrez adds levels of meaning in a singular image that never changes, reminding us of the plastic nature of the photography, and the ease in which it moves between fiction and fact before our very eyes.

It is said that revolution is when the circle spins round, and so it is that we come to the work of Wyatt Gallery from his series titled “Subtext” on view at Foley Gallery during PULSE as well. The works, which appear to be abstract expressionist paintings, are photographs Gallery took of empty recesses on walls inside the New York City subway system. Allocated to advertisements, the spaces had been rendered temporarily blank, revealing a human-forged layer of torn posters, paint, graffiti, and glue applied repeatedly over decades. With camera in hand, Gallery records what most people rarely see, the detritus under the surface of daily life.

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Using a new printing technique that literally layers ink like paint, then fuses it to the surface of the board, Gallery has devised an ingenious way to create work that combines abstract painting with documentary photography, literally pushing the boundaries of the medium into the twenty-first century by asking us to look at what so few actually see. This is what photography does best: it comes full circle and pauses to draw breath before starting its journey once again to investigate the boundaries between what the real and the imagined, the present and the past.