Elsa Dorfman: Me and My Camera at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

  Over the course of 35 years, the photographer Elsa Dorfman has made some 4,000 portraits with the 20×24 Polaroid camera. Elsa Dorfman: Me and My Camera, which was on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, before the pandemic-related closings of non-essential businesses, homes in on her practice through the lens of self-portraiture. In addition to examples of her early black-and-white work, the exhibition includes 14 Polaroid prints framed in Plexiglass boxes revealing the irregular edges and chemistry residue – what Dorfman describes as the “satisfying materiality” of the Polaroid process. The overall mood is joyful: Dorfman, often wearing her signature sneakers, commemorates important events like her birthday, adding a handwritten caption underneath each image. Dorfman describes her introduction to photography in 1965…

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Tania Franco Klein: Proceed to the Route at ROSEGALLERY

Tania Franco Klein’s Proceed to the Route, an exhibition named after a frequent Google Maps refrain, had the feeling of a multi-room collage, albeit a tasteful one put together by a judicious minimalist. Some photographs, printed large, adhered directly to the walls, others were framed and hung at eye level, knee-level, or high up; occasionally, images overlapped. This installation made the show feel a bit like a connect the dots exercise – you were compelled to find the narrative relationships between images. Though the works assembled here in fact came from a few different series, they shared a glamorous cinematic aesthetic and a kind of ennui that stretched across the motel rooms, desert landscapes, planes, and old cars that Franco Klein takes as her subjects….

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Reimagining Home: Photographs by Bahman Jalali and Gohar Dashti at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Iran was an early adopter of photography. Nasir al-Din Shah became hooked on the art form after receiving a camera from his father, who was given it as a gift from Queen Victoria and Tsar Nicholas I. He established his own photography studio in his palace, presumably where a photographer took pictures of his 84 wives. During Nasir al-Din’s rule, in the Qajar period, photography studios flourished. This history is helpful to appreciate Reimagining Home, on view at the MFA through July 12 once it reopens. This rich, compact show pairs a teacher and his student, and while their work is stylistically different, both artists hint at a dense history of Iran that is both spectacular and tragic, and both gesture hopefully toward the future. …

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Miljohn Ruperto and Ulrik Heltoft: Voynich Botanical Studies at Friends Indeed Gallery, San Francisco

Diane Arbus described a photograph as a “secret about a secret.” That quote aptly describes these pictures by the artist-duo Miljohn Ruperto and Ulrik Heltoft. Even when the duo’s process is revealed, the images in their Voynich Botanical Studies remain mysterious, like the manuscript to which they refer: a 16th-century codex that contains text written in an unknown language, as well as drawings of plants, zodiac symbols, and nudes. The cryptic text has fascinated codebreakers for centuries but has never been definitively deciphered. Even the subjects of its botanical drawings remain unidentified, and some scholars believe that the manuscript is, in fact, an elaborate deception. Ruperto and Heltoft create 3D renderings of the plants depicted in the manuscript, borrowing textures from scans of real plants,…

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The Legacy of Issei Suda (1940-2014): Human Memory at Miyako Yoshinaga Gallery

A towering figure in Japanese photography, Issei Suda has received little to no attention in the West. This small, focused show was the first posthumous exhibition of his work since he died last year. The 25 black-and-white prints, shot from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, were drawn from his 1996 monograph Human Memory, which received the Domon Ken Award, Japan’s most prestigious photography prize. Early in his career, Suda worked as a stage photographer with legendary avant-garde theater impresario Sūji Terayama. Under his influence, Suda continued to pursue the mystical side of daily life, taking as his subjects the folk roots of Japanese culture as well as the street life of Japan’s fast-growing urban centers. Unlike the artists identified with the Provoke movement…

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Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite at the Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco

Black Is Beautiful, the robust Kwame Brathwaite retrospective on view this winter, deftly conveyed the spirit of community and entrepreneurship that influenced the fight for self-determination, equality, and civil rights among African Americans in the mid-20th century. Born to Barbadian-immigrant parents, Brathwaite grew up in a multicultural Bronx enclave and after graduating from high school, he and his brother Elombe, along with other collaborators, founded AJASS, the African Jazz-Art Society & Studios. Described by Black Is Beautiful curator Dr. Tanisha C. Ford as a “radical collective of playwrights, graphic artists, dancers, and fashion designers,” AJASS members modeled their collaboration on previous generations who had formed social clubs that affirmed and fortified multiple black cultural identities.  Brathwaite’s devotion to jazz is evident in the black-and-white photographs…

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John Dowell: Cotton: Symbol of the Forgotten at Laurence Miller Gallery

Fabric panels, printed with images of cotton plants, hung in the center of the Laurence Miller Gallery earlier this winter. They floated down from the ceiling, creating an installation so visually rich that visitors could almost imagine they could smell and feel the “crops.” Entering the small maze elicited a sense of claustrophobia. The installation, part of John Dowell’s exhibition  Cotton: Symbol of the Forgotten, represented a story the artist’s grandmother had told him about a childhood experience of getting lost in a cotton field. As the branches scratched her arms and legs and she found herself going deeper into the field, she feared she would never get out. Although far less alarming than that experience, the installation, titled Lost in Cotton, evokes the power…

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KangHee Kim: Dreamer at Benrubi Gallery

Like a crystallized daydream, KangHee Kim’s photographs seem to capture serendipitous moments and surreal landscapes. Her exhibition Dreamer, on view at Benrubi Gallery through March 7, contains 12 digitally composed photographs in which it’s not always clear whether fantasy is encroaching on reality or the other way around.  Kim is literally a “dreamer,” having moved from Korea to the U.S. with her family in 2005, at the age of 14. Her DACA status means she lives in a state of limbo – she can’t leave the country and be guaranteed reentry. Like many immigrants, Kim can only dream about her home of origin. In interviews, she has said that her works provide a form of “surreal escapism.” The scenes are indeed dreamy and surreal, like…

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Matthew Pillsbury: Then and Now at Edwynn Houk Gallery

  There is no mistaking the grandeur in a Matthew Pillsbury photograph. Façades like the ornate metal and glasswork atop Paris’s Grand Palais des Glaces or the stone passage in which Winged Victory resides at the Louvre are captured in intricate detail with exposures often surpassing an hour. Every building in the skyline, every architectural detail in a museum, is visible to the eye, while bodies rush by in a blur.  This show encompassed work from other series – Screen Lives, Time Frame, and Sanctuary, the oldest dating back to 2008 – some in black and white, others in color, along with his newest photographs from 2019. With these latest images, produced in the Jewel Changi Airport, Gardens by the Bay, and Marina Bay Sands…

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