Virginia-based photographer Sally Mann once said, "Every image is in some way a 'portrait,' not in the way that it would reproduce the traits of a person, but in that it pulls and draws. … It extracts something, an intimacy, a force."
Mann is perhaps most famous for the portraits she took of her family, the best hauntingly lingering in the mind long after walking away. Nonetheless, portraits remain infamously difficult for viewers to appreciate and gallerists to sell — so to begin with portraiture, even as a loose theme, is an up-hill battle. But that's just what Director Gordon Stettinius and Associate Director Ashby Nickerson have done for Candela's Books and Gallery's annual fundraiser and juried exhibition, "Unbound 7."
"We're doing a speak-easy-themed party," Stettinius says. "We might do some sort of speak-easy password [or] sitting room in the front. We thought about really leveraging the portrait into a portrait gallery."
In its seventh iteration, "Unbound 7" is comprised of works submitted by local talent — the youngest artist, Torrance Hall, recently graduated from Deep Run High School — as well as invited artists and international photographers. Proceeds from the fundraiser will be used to purchase new works for the Candela Collection, which numbers 61 objects and eventually will be donated to an art institution. Stettinius is hopeful they might remain in Virginia.
As the collection keeps growing and storage becomes an issue, Nickerson says it "might get split and go in a couple of flights."
"There's no map for this," points out Stettinius. "It's a cool idea. … I'm going to give it away to somebody … but we don't know how to do it."
"But we're doing it," Nickerson says, laughing.
As usual, the exhibition reflects Stettinius' and Nickerson's eyes for talent. There are the expected 19th-century processes like ambrotypes or prints made from collodion negatives, alternative processes such as gunpowder-generated, gelatin-silver prints and smoke on porcelain, and a number of photo books and photographs that geek out about the medium of photography itself, as seen in works by Andy Mattern or John Cyr.
Other themes emerge tied to gender identity, surveillance and the photographic archive. Addison Brown's three works fluidly negotiate gender. In two self-portraits "Switch" (2017) and "Marcy Fletcher" (2017) Brown, who impersonates a variety of theatrical characters, dresses up in male and female costumes while his role playing is animated in "Legerdomain" (2018) a privately-viewed flip book housed in a hand-cranked mutoscope, a motion-picture device from the late-19th century. Christa Blackwood's portraits of male nudes in feminine poses are a classic subversion of the male gaze that appropriate, for example, an Alfred Stieglitz portrait of a nude woman. Gabriel Garcia Roman's "Jennicet" and "Erica" are two new works from his "Queer Icons" series that offers a portrait of a trans or gay person in the style of an icon alongside text recounting the sitter's story.
Surveillance systems inform Noelle Mason's "Mule (Hgk/Ord)" (2018)—a visual travelogue with an X-ray image of her pelvis and a foreign object, an ivory buddha, airplane boarding pass and receipt — as she examines the transportation of ivory across international borders. Cynthia Connolly's photo postcards and prints each feature landscape images of an Inca and a large white X painted on the ground for aerial mapping that appear randomly nationwide. An ongoing project since 2000, each image evokes an element of mystery as to its larger purpose.
The photographic archive appears in David Pace and Stephen Wirtz's archival pigment prints, three appropriated press images from World War II that were transmitted by wire or radio wave, which have been rephotographed, cropped and altered. Issues of value and archival information are critically examined by Mark Kelner with 25 bad, color reproductions of Russian constructivist painter Kazimir Malevich's "Suprematist Composition: White on White" (1918) taken from the internet. In Kelner's hands, digital reproductions, authenticity, and value systems are overturned.
If Mann is right and every image — or as she often says, "good picture" — is a portrait because it has a force, then Candela's, which keeps mounting strong shows of photography year after year, will continue to be a draw for the photographically curious and the astute. S
"Unbound7!" runs through Aug. 4 with a fundraising gala on Saturday, July 28. For information, see candelabooks.com.