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Photography review

Identity and memory on display at the PRC

Lissa Rivera’s “Motel,” part of the the Photographic Resource Center’s 20th annual juried exhibition.

To mark the 20th anniversary of its annual “Exposure” show, the Photographic Resource Center at Boston University expanded the number of both jurors and exhibiting artists. All five jurors are former PRC directors and curators, and there are 13 photographers rather than the usual five or six.

Juried shows are naturally various. That would seem especially in the nature of this year’s “Exposure,” with its having so many cooks and double the photographic ingredients. Sometimes chance has other plans. A couple of themes, identity and memory, predominate. The fact that memory has so much to do with identity means that there’s a nice overlap between the two.


Identity can be as straightforward, and affecting, as the four black-and-white portraits of street kids from Michael Joseph’s series “Lost and Found.” Or it can be as layered as in Leah Miriam Cooper’s two color photographs and video. All three works use superimposition to braid together generations. The photographs are of family slides projected on Cooper’s house. The video shows her image blending with that of her mother or father in old photographs.

“Napoleon,” by Sarah Malakoff.

A different kind of layering characterizes both Toni Pepe’s pair of meditations on motherhood, from her “The Second Moment” series, and the four examples from Lissa Rivera’s “Beautiful Boy” project. With the former, Pepe evokes the visual opulence of Baroque painting (Caravaggesque maternity, now there is a concept). With the latter, Rivera plays with ideas of sexual identity and presentation through portraits of her http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/theater-art/2016/05/08/identity-and-memory-display-prce/01TPHGaK7aXXLVMiPu19XO/story.htmlgenderqueer partner. Rivera’s “Motel,” ups the layering ante: It could be a colorized outtake from Cindy Sherman’s “Film Stills” series.

Identity can be as much about where as who. That’s the point of departure for the trio of examples from Sarah Malakoff’s “Interior Portraits” series. While empty of people, the rooms she shows are full of meaning: decor as declaration of personality.


Memory and identity explicitly intersect in the work of Astrid Reischwitz and Larry Volk . Reischwitz’s frames enclose both vintage family photographs and contemporary images she’s taken of items associated with her family in Germany: pieces of fabric, say, or a metal potato basket. Volk’s video “The 4 Questions” and four related photographs examine his mother’s experience as a Holocaust survivor. The video is notably effective, combining period film footage and photographs, more recent family pictures, documents, and audio.

History qualifies as both collective identity and collective memory. Terri Warpinski’s quartet of photographs shows sites where people were killed trying to cross the Berlin Wall. The contrast between the appearance of these calmly unexceptionable locations with the grim events described in text at the bottom of each photograph is startling and moving.

"Westport River," by Jonathan Sharlin.

Memory rarely reveals itself with the specificity of what we see in Warpinski’s photographs. Its tendency toward the evanescent and obscure can be seen in Tsar Fedorsky’s three black-and-white photographs of empty rooms. They’re like corridors to the otherworld. That tendency suffuses John Steck Jr.’s four images on unprepared paper. Their present soft blurriness is as particular as they’re going to get. They’re designed to fade and disappear. For now, they have the delicate, beyond-pastel beauty of certain Helen Frankenthaler prints.

All photographs are about memory, of course, and any taken by a credited photographer has a relationship to identity. That said, the remaining artists with work in “Exposure” are distinctly — and distinctively — outliers. Marcus DeSieno’s are the wildest. He takes images of nebulae and planets, sics bacteria on them, and photographs the eaten-away results. Harry meeting Sally has nothing on macro meeting micro.


Jonathan Sharlin’s black-and-white pictures of hunting blinds are handsome in and of themselves — and nicely metaphorical. “As I walk the woods with my camera,” Sharlin writes, “I become a hunter myself.”

Thea Dodds pursues, peacefully, much smaller creatures. She uses the 19th-century process of albumen prints to create a mosaic consisting of 130 small pictures of bees. Alongside this two-dimensional apiary is a selection of origami-like flower sculptures of Dodds’s bee pictures — bees and flowers being even more of a partnership than memory and identity. Would that products of the latter collaboration always produced honey.

EXPOSURE: The 20th Annual PRC Juried Exhibition

Photographic Resource Center at Boston University, 832 Commonwealth Ave., through June 26, 617-975-0600, wwwprcboston.org

Mark Feeney can be reached at mfeeney@globe.com.