It’s the height of summer, so it must be time for a party with a good cause at Candela Books and Gallery.
In its fifth year, the annual “Unbound” benefit raises money to help buy photographic works for the Candela collection, which are selected from the corresponding exhibition, “Unbound5” Eventually, the collection will be donated to a still-unannounced institution.
Since the fundraiser began in 2012, the year Candela Books and Gallery opened to the public, the collection has grown to 41 pieces. Selections are on view in the upstairs gallery. Founder and director Gordon Stettinius says the practice lends itself to a high caliber of work.
“We have been promising to donate the Candela collection to one permanent collection,” Stettinius says. “I’m going to be choosy about which one. But I think we’ll find a home for it.”
Earlier he simply was trying to add volume and see how far the money could go, he says. But now he’s starting to have themes emerge from the collection.
“I’m starting to tune in to what makes me tick as a collector. I’m trying to be more thoughtful going forward and to set aside my personal attractions and considerations of budgets,” he says. “I’m thinking more about what each photograph means. The thought process behind the selection is evolving.”
Overall, the collection favors the human figure, as seen in Peter Brown Leighton’s “Untitled” (2013) of a spectacled man, dressed in suit and tie, framed by a halo of light from a lightning bolt that stretches across a nearly black background. It also displays a strong affinity for abstraction and alternative-process photography, like the gelatin-silver mordançage used by Brittany Nelson for “Science 1” (2015).
“I am pretty drawn to contemporary trends in photography that are process-oriented. I like mixed media,” Stettinius says. “I like alternative processes. I like photographers who are tinkerers and pushing process. When it comes to straight photography, I’m drawn to the mystique narrative or an intellectual hook. There’s a relationship between process-oriented and straight photography. This show gives us room to show the larger cross-section of contemporary photography. The rest of the year, we end up with a narrower bandwidth.”
Perhaps narrative is the strongest thread running through the collection. It rings true for the 58 works in the current exhibition. “We had close to 450 submissions this year,” associate director Ashby Nickerson says. “We also invited five artists.”
Feminism factors prominently as a theme, and is seen in photographs by Lindsey Beal, Christa Blackwood, Asiya Al-Sharabi, Melanie Walker and Phil Toledano.
Beal pairs a series of small, wet plate collodion photographs alongside the pictured subject: three-dimensional paper forms in the shape of female torsos. In “Prix West: Moab N57” (2015), Blackwood’s signature red dot — an allusion to the female — is placed over the backside of a nude, male model. Al-Sharabi and Toledano both discuss censorship of women in the Middle East by photographing women from Yemen and Iran.
Then there are photographs that evoke an absence. Andy Mattern’s “Untitled #9395” (2016) features an ornate but empty silver picture frame. The saturated, rich color in Chris Bennett’s “Darkwood” (2014), a picture of three trees surrounded by a dense green forest, invites the viewer to get lost in the scene.
Marina Paulenka’s two untitled prints are quietly poetic. One showcases a closed stone niche above a row of pink and blue hydrangeas while the other features a room with an open window, a curtain that slightly sways, and a row of simple mattresses. The poignancy of these photographs is understated but strong.
Other highlights include Walker’s “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors” (2016), three installations that combine lithographic film transparencies with LED lights, which are projected onto the wall. Walker has created her own iconographic language by substituting the head of each figure for a wooden dollhouse.
Finally, there are photographs that speak to the human condition. Susan Worsham and James McCracken have photographed strangers. Conversely, Matthew Eich turns the camera on his family. In McCracken’s “American Beauty” (2016), a large, bearded and shirtless man sports a tattoo across his belly, which doubles as the title of the photograph. He stands in front of an Airstream trailer, with his belongings alongside it. At its core, it is simple portraiture. But there’s something more intriguing: It’s the small hint of a story or an invitation to enter into the photograph and experience the lives of the subject or the maker.
Like the other strong photographs in the exhibition, McCracken asks the viewer to muse about the gaps and fill in the absences. S
“Unbound5” runs through July with a fundraising and event July 23, from 7-11 p.m. Event tickets are $50 each or $90 per couple. For information visit candelabooks.com.