For another three weeks, people who have not yet been to the 2 Many Pixels Photo Gallery on Jackson Avenue will have a chance to see work by photographers featured there throughout different months last year. Besides exhibiting diverse subject matter in color as well as black and white, Best Photographers of 2011 reflects a range of both artistic development and technical skill.
I find images by women in the current show to be most compelling overall. Heather McClintock again presents the stunning results of time she's spent in Africa: on this occasion, 10 pictures culled from many, documenting victims of conflict in Uganda. And McClintock's reverent photographs—within the scope of the group—ultimately stand out the most.
The show's other female contributors—Kat Bike, Natasha Scheuerman, and Jameykay Young—share exploratory forays into the intensely observed or semi-surreal. Although there's drama in Bike's solarization and montage efforts, two of her more impressive photographs provide a glimpse of the delicacy of an ice-covered twig, and the sight of miniscule people inside an expansive space that's at first unidentifiable as being real.
Scheuerman's photograph of a woman in Southeast Asia pedaling a pink bicycle down a road is likewise straightforward. Wearing a sweater matching her bicycle, and shaded by a magenta patterned umbrella, the woman is oddly glamorous alongside murky water and spindly telephone poles.
Given Young's fashion photography background, it stands to reason that her images are more staged than others in the show. When they're not too self-conscious, her posed shots of women are striking. Moving from traditional portraiture ("Jessie on the Dock") to hidden narrative ("It's My Role, It's My Soul," her photograph of a young woman shoulders-deep in a lake, and "Overdose," picturing a naïf surrounded by prescription bottles; maybe a nod to Cindy Sherman's brand of kitsch), Young clearly enjoys trying new things. Her images are particularly intriguing when she appears to have some sort of story in mind.
Despite obvious potential, these three women have not yet arrived at McClintock's level. Their pictures seem to be all over the map—not necessarily bad, in that options aren't dismissed, but that kind of experimentation usually indicates evolving photographic experience, a phase when no path has been fully determined, resulting in work sometimes lacking originality. Nevertheless, Bike's efforts toward abstracting humans and their environment, Scheuerman's execution of portraits and object studies, and Young's determination to inject mystery into her images make their work worthy of consideration.
As for the men participating in Best Photographers of 2011, only one offers portraits: the award-winning Andy Armstrong. A Story of White Lightning in Black & White, Armstrong's series of portraits of notorious purveyor of moonshine Marvin "Popcorn" Sutton, is interesting, but it would be more so if it further reflected Armstrong's perspective. Not an easy thing to pull off, mind you, and straight documentation only references the photographer to an extent. Yet given the mountain man's apparent willingness to be portrayed, it seems Armstrong missed an opportunity to come up with a greater variety of approaches or to seek shifts in disposition. For instance, I suspect the "American Gothic" shot of Sutton wielding copper pipe like a pitchfork wasn't meant to amuse. However, it might benefit from the humor with an extreme edge seen in photographs by Emmet Gowin.
Regarding sameness, Scott W. Lee's pictures—with the exception of an image of a bicycle and one showing a ball in a hallway—were evidently made within a short time during one shoot. Consequently, I can't help but wonder how the ancient truck he depicts might look in different light over a period of hours or days. Lee has a feel for the striking scenario; he'd do well to reveal what happens if he returns.
Finally, Scar Tissue is a series of black-and-white images by photographer/professor Mark Malloy. Featuring abandoned ramshackle structures, Malloy's shots of a shack—its metal roof peeling off, an old Hotpoint range, and a tattered bird's nest spilling from cabinetry—are unusual due to limited depth of field. With only a portion of space in focus, his scenes mimic how the eye perceives things, and as such, they can register as memory. If not haunted by Malloy's forlorn places specifically, viewers might sense that they symbolize the overgrown past, and loss in general. A powerful effect, powerfully conveyed, at a photography-specific venue long overdue in Knoxville.