The new show at Verve Gallery of Photography is billed as a “three-person exhibition of documentary photography.” By my count, there are three persons and there is photography. I must be missing the documentary part.
Stanko Abadžic’s work is at times very beautiful, but it never transcends the level of proficient hobbyist. He does almost everything by the book, so much so that the photographs feel like an attempt to blend in with the giants who came before. With his balanced compositions, good contrast, and consistency of line and pattern, Abadžic is the greatest Photo 101 student in the universe.
As for calling the work documentary, Abadžic’s shots are reactive—observed but not necessarily imposed upon by the artist. They do not look posed or altered. But, at the very least, a documentary project ought to have a consistent theme, something it proposes to document. With Abadžic, I get the sense he happily strolls the aging cities of Europe looking for things that will make interesting pictures—like children or breasts. He is, for all the world, a street photographer. There’s nothing wrong with this approach; it’s just a bit dilettantish, prizing aesthetics over insights. There’s not much to say about the images themselves. Without a strong thread between them, you’ll probably like some but not others.
Michael Crouser’s new body of work, culminating in the forthcoming book The West, purports to document “the disappearing world of cattle ranchers in Colorado, all shot on Kodak Tri-X film.” Did you catch that subtle plug? It’s telling that the first sentence of the description mentions the tools of the trade because the pictures Crouser eventually produces look a lot like advertisements for photo supplies.
Most of the pictures feature cows, cowboys or both, shrouded in just the right amount of mist. I can’t put my finger on exactly what I don’t like about them, but they seem generic, like they have no author at all. Crouser tends to frame his subjects tightly, isolating the focal points and cropping out everything else. Sometimes this makes for heightened drama, but mostly I feel like I am being beaten over the head to notice something I would have noticed anyway.
The theme of the work is consistent enough, but the images themselves are so romantic—see the wild animal, see the rugged man, see the wild, rugged terrain—they seem like they must be selling something (cigarettes, maybe). In any case, there’s not much to learn about ranching.
Julio Bittencourt’s In A Window of Prestes Maia 911 Building depicts a giant squatters’ colony in São Paolo, Brazil.
It sounds like an amazing project to take on, but the rigid parameters imposed upon it by the artist are disappointing.
The entirety of Bittencourt’s series looks at the inhabitants while they pose in their windows. These images are always seen from the same viewpoint—the adjacent window. Bittencourt states this is to demonstrate the symbolic theme of “barriers,” but the work suffers from a case of overplaying the metaphor. Indeed, wouldn’t the idea of barriers come across even if this technique were employed sparingly? Certainly it would have freed Bittencourt up to make the work multidimensional.
As such, each picture is so similar that the project fails to demonstrate the individuality of each tenant, instead opting to show time and again the shocking idea that poor people really do have dignity. The similarities between the photos are tiresome and lacking. Foremost, I would like to see the interiors. After all, the building itself may be the commonality, but the inside contains the possessions and personal touches that constitute someone’s home—and that is what this place is, despite the squalor.
Overall, I couldn’t shake the idea that these photographers pay a whole lot of attention to making a nice composition, often at the expense of taking a meaningful picture.
Stanko Abadžic, Julio Bittencourt and Michael Crouser
Through March 13
Verve Gallery of Photography
219 E. Marcy St.