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Focus On: Diana Markosian

Once upon a time, the United States billed itself as a beacon of hope, a land of opportunity and prosperity. Debatable, even prior to the last four years, that idea has nevertheless drawn people from around the world in search of a better life. Diana Markosian’s mother was one of those people, bringing her two children from Moscow to California when Diana was seven years old, shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union. That decision, and its consequences, is the subject of Markosian’s remarkable book, Santa Barbara (Aperture, 2020). The photographs in the series (scheduled to go on view at SFMOMA in June and at ICP in the fall) comprise a staged re-enactment of her childhood, with actors playing her mother, her father, her step-father, her…

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Focus On: Zora J Murff

Zora J Murff’s series At No Point in Between is a slow burn of a project. Based in the historically Black neighborhood of North Omaha, Nebraska, his portraits, landscape images, and found photographs build upon each other to form a quietly devastating indictment of the multiple ways that violence is inflicted on Black communities. There are references to specific violent incidents, like the lynching of Will Brown in 1919 or the murder of Vivian Strong, a 14-year-old girl killed by a police officer in 1969, both in Omaha, Nebraska. In a found photograph of Brown’s body being burned, Murff focuses on the group of 30-plus white men who gathered to watch, grinning shamelessly for the camera, claiming their white privilege and white power. By shifting the…

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Focus On: Jon Henry

Jon Henry is the recipient of the 2020 Arnold Newman Prize for New Directions in Photographic Portraiture for his series Stranger Fruit, portraits of Black mothers holding their sons in poses that suggest the pietà. Selections from the series are on view at the Griffin Museum of Photography through October 23. Born and raised in Queens, NY, Henry says the idea for the series, which he began in 2014, first came to him after the murder of Sean Bell in 2006 by police, on the morning before his wedding in Jamaica, Queens. “It felt like it could have been me or any of my friends,” he says, adding, “I’m 38, and to this day, my mother tells me to be careful; she still worries.” The religious…

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Focus On: Bill Hunt

“Photography, for me, is a life’s mission,” says collector, curator, teacher, writer, former dealer, onetime actor, and full-time storyteller Bill Hunt. “I think of the enormous pleasure that photography’s brought to me over the years, and I’m happy to share it, and I’m energized to talk about it and to direct people to it.” Hunt has been collecting photographs for some 40 years, amassing a couple thousand objects in his two main collections – one on the theme of closed or averted eyes, the other featuring American photographs of groups before 1950. Over the next three years, he is deaccessioning everything, beginning with an online sale at Christie’s, The Unseen Eye: Photographs from the W.M. Hunt Collection, that starts October 5 and runs until October…

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Focus On: Naima Green

Three years ago, the artist Naima Green was doing research at the New York Public Library when she came across a reference to a work by Catherine Opie that she’d never heard about, much less seen. Opie’s Dyke Deck (1995) is a set of 54 playing cards that is also a set of 54 small, black-and-white portraits, a snapshot of the Bay Area queer community in the 1990s. “I immediately felt connected to the form,” says Green, who promptly bought a Dyke Deck on eBay. “I felt seen and comforted in a lot of ways, but I also wanted to see more of my own community.” With Opie’s blessing, Green began shooting portraits for her own deck, Pur·suit, which reflects the queer community of color…

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Focus On: Rania Matar

  Those who have thus far been lucky enough to escape the worst outcomes of the Covid-19 crisis still exist in a surreal sort of limbo characterized by uncertainty and longing for contact with friends and loved ones. Smiles are concealed behind masks; there’s no shaking hands, much less hugging; and visits to friends and elders take place through windowpanes, at a distance, or not at all.  From her kitchen in Brookline, Massachusetts, where she has been quarantining at home with her husband and six young adults (including her four children), Rania Matar gazed daily across the yard at her neighbor, working in her own kitchen. One day, she saw her neighbor sitting in her bay window, reading. “I found that so beautiful,” says Matar,…

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Focus On: Mary Ellen Bartley

  Mary Ellen Bartley was in Bologna, Italy, in the midst of a residency at the Giorgio Morandi studio and library, when the pandemic hit Italy. She was three and a half weeks into the five-week residency, photographing Morandi’s books, when Italy began shutting down, and she had to leave. Bartley flew home to her house in Sag Harbor, New York, where she put herself in quarantine and regrouped. Bartley copes by working, she says. Until now, books have been the subjects of most of her photographs, often books in particular archives, like Morandi’s library. She’s also photographed the book collections of Jackson Pollock, Robert Wilson, and little Edie (Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s cousin) in her East Hampton home, Grey Gardens. Bartley’s photographs emphasize the tactile qualities…

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Focus On: Andre Wagner

It’s not easy to be a street photographer these days. There’s less happening on the street, for one thing, with people sheltering in place, and anxieties are running high. Everybody is aware of every other body in their vicinity, and it’s hard to see a smile behind a mask. But Andre Wagner continues to go out every day to photograph. “There’s black and brown people in my neighborhood who still have to go out and do things in the world,” says Wagner, who lives in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, “so I continue to go out even in the pandemic.” Wagner’s photographs (those on view here are all pre-pandemic pictures) capture small moments of connection – children in animated conversation; a group of kids playing…

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Focus On: SHAN Wallace

The Baltimore Museum of Art made an unprecedented commitment to female artists last year by announcing that every work of art the museum acquired in 2020 would be by a woman and that each of the planned exhibitions would have a female-centric focus. One of those exhibitions, SHAN Wallace: 410, also has hometown roots. The title of the show, which the artist herself calls a love letter to Baltimore, is a reference to the city’s area code. A Baltimore native, Wallace makes portraits of the city’s black men, women, and children with affection and deep familiarity. A young man giving a bottle to the baby cradled in his arms; a quartet of children, arms draped around each other; a collection of people waiting (and waiting)…

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