Thomas Chang, Belinda Gray and Sharon Wickham at Andrea Schwartz Gallery
by Christine Brenneman
There's nothing quite like a photograph to lend a new perspective and weight to an ordinary object. Taken out of the larger context of the real world, the image and the scene it depicts becomes a thing separate and more easily mined for visual richness. At a recent San Francisco show, three Northern California photographers transformed details from our contemporary landscape into relevant and intriguing artistic motifs. The trio, Thomas Chang, Belinda Gray and Sharon Wickham, all shed light on hidden or ignored spaces in their color prints, but their chosen subject matter wildly divergent.
Thomas Chang showed large-scale photos of the vacant interiors of strip clubs, brightly lit and garishly furnished. In his Lap Dance Chair, Boys Toys, deep, overstuffed chairs in tacky fabrics lined up empty against a wall, elevated strip tease poles ascending to the ceiling between each chair. Like a theater set awaiting its actors, the room was conspicuously empty and devoid of life; without undulating flesh, the club seemed plain, boring and entirely uninviting. Yet against this back drop, fantasies of all kinds play out on a nightly basis. Chang allowed entry into these nightspots, minus dancers and patrons, inviting viewers to project their own ideas onto the space.
Tackling an altogether more wholesome American pastime, fellow photographer Belinda Gray shot rural county fairs and showed the culture contained therein. Beauty queens, 4-H girls, and a bevy of fair-goers occupied her huge color prints. Sonoma-Marin county Fair No. 1, Petaluma, CA June 2001 introduced a middle-aged, bleached blonde woman working at a concession stand stuffed with cotton candy and every imaginable variety of junk food. All angles and sun-bleached hues, the piece works not only as portrait of this woman, but also as a portrait of the world of the county fair. For what else is the fair experience if not sugar, townies and too much sun?
Sharon Wickham left the rural milieu far behind in her tiny color studies of abandoned furniture left on the streets of San Francisco. Couches, chairs and anything else discarded on the city's alleyways and avenues were fair game in Wickham's works. Her Torso captured the sadly forsaken vestige of a low-slung, creamy-white couch sectional thatÕs missing a seat cushion. With soft focus, and use of a technique photographer call "vignetting" (darkening the edges of the print in a circle around the subject), Wickham created an old-time portrait feel. She treated these castoffs as something to be revered or at the very least noticed.
This triumvirate of photographers adeptly recognized and highlighted the overlooked in our surroundings. The mundane, and seemingly unexceptional, became an entirely different creature through the lenses of Chang, Gray and Wickham. Though we may not all frequent strip clubs and county fairs, or comb the streets of a big city for rejected furniture, these things exist in fairly close proximity to most of us; these artists simply took not of the visual facts we usually pass over, and let the rest of us in on the secret.