Visions of War
Three of the photographers presented in Verve Fine Arts' Amici della Galleria exhibition present gripping portraits that unveil some of the most prominent ghosts that haunt the collective American mind.
Ian Ramirez presents close-cropped head portraits of ordinary Mexican laborers, presenting them as his heroes. Technically beautiful and lovingly emotive, the works humanize rather than politicize.
Katariina Fagering, currently a captain in the Marine Corps Reserves, has been deployed in both Operation Desert Storm and in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Her images of Fallujah show young Americans preoccupied with occupation, their eyes indicating the layers of emotional protection built carefully around their souls.
Finally, Herbert Lotz exhibits images that he exposed during the Vietnam War.
Lotz has spent decades in Santa Fe earning a sterling reputation as a commercial photographer, while occasionally unveiling his fine art photography, including his notable Men Kissing series. Lotz came to Santa Fe in the wake of Vietnam. Like thousands of others, he was looking for an escape, for a sense of relief from the anxiety war had left like embers at his core. For 30 years, Lotz left his film from Vietnam largely undeveloped. The exhibition at Verve is a small, but telling, selection of images Lotz took during his tour. (He was drafted out of the Chicago Art Institute when he let his credit hours slip a bit too much.)
A radio operator segregated from his unit and stationed at Cu Chi in South Vietnam, Lotz captured images ranging from the mundane to the fantastical, from burning waste in the latrines to USO shows hosted by Bob Hope and Ann Margaret. When Lotz documented a USO show or Vietnamese strippers performing in a makeshift officers' club, he trained his lens not on the center of the spectacle, but back on the men watching. Whether they are hooting at a naked woman writhing on a fur rug or piled into the stands to watch Hope hang with the Rockettes, the resulting images unveil forced grins, boy-like camaraderie, facades of toughness and, most of all, stares that see through the "entertainment" to a place of grim desperation, the horizon within.
From portraits of men seeking shade in doorways to men crying as they grip a radio listening to the news of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination, Lotz captures the intensity of war's downtime. One thread of images is particularly touching: Lotz stalked the camp during the day, when many people tried to get the sleep that eluded them during nights filled with rocket attacks and mortar bombardments. He snapped delicate, somewhat erotic images of men sleeping—quiet moments of peace and beauty lodged precariously in an otherwise fitful existence. There is an alarming subtext to all of these images in that Cu Chi was later discovered to be riddled with tunnels under the surface. The entire time that Lotz was stationed there, as men slept and watched strippers and cried and dispatched secret radio communication, the enemy was just a few feet away, burrowed underground, listening to everything.
Each image is blown-up in size, the edges of the negatives visible and any grit and scratches accumulated over time are not cleaned up. Rather, like the memories he carries, Lotz has left the film with its own scars, its own fuzzy points of strange focus, its own muted overexposures, its own imperfect and revealing story.
Extra, Extra, Read All About It
An artifact from Santa Fe Design Week surfaced recently with the release of Rupture, a book touted as the first project of a nonprofit called Design Santa Fe, but funded by a portion of the budget the City of Santa Fe had committed to the last-ever Design Week. The book's silver cover and scissors graphic is promising, but from the open-air launch party where artwork was hung in a light rain on strange wire racks, to the contents of the book, it's hard to pull much inspiration from this effort.
The book aims mostly at promoting the recent rise of collaborative artist groups in Santa Fe, calling it a "new media democracy," which is noble and timely enough, but the sparse bursts of stylized text fails to say anything…at all. The lack of contextualization, coupled with the disparate levels of talent and accomplishment (serious, engaging work is rare enough and when found is smothered by its proximity to glorified doodles), relegates the book to the status of a curiosity rather than something "dedicated to the shifting vision of each new generation," as it claims.
The structure of the book itself aggravates as well. There is an index, with artist credits listed for each page number, but the pages themselves have no numbers, making the index useless unless you already know all the artists or are particularly keen on hand counting the pages.
If this is the first project of a new organization, especially yet another nonprofit that intends to compete for donations from Santa Fe's pool of limited resources, it had better sharpen its output. As it stands, anything with the words "design" and "Santa Fe," coupled in any order, is pretty damn suspect.
Amici della Galleria
Through July 13
Verve Fine Arts
219 E. Marcy St.