In ‘Essential Images’ at Anderson Ranch, seven photographers tell the story of 2020
IF YOU GO …
What: ‘Essential Images’
Where: Patton-Malott Gallery, Anderson Ranch Arts Center
When: Through Oct. 9
How much: Free
More info: The exhibition is also available for online viewing at andersonranch.org. The Ranch will host a virtual event with featured photographers on Oct. 1.
There are no hospital scenes in the timely new exhibition at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center’s Patton-Malott Gallery, no images of nurses in face shields or lines at testing stations or refrigerator trucks serving as overflow morgues. The images here, from some of the world’s most talented documentary photographers, tell the story of the novel coronavirus pandemic without any of those familiar front-page images.
Shot by photographers enrolled at The Center at Anderson Ranch, its three-year intensive mentored study program, they are images that will last, all of them made in the long months since the pandemic began — some on assignment, some from the claustrophobic quarantine, some are staged, some are spontaneous photojournalism. They are original, they are powerful and they are, as the title of the exhibition states, “Essential Images.”
“It is seven different perspectives,” said Anderson Ranch visiting curator Sam Hopple, who organized the show, “but all relating to this one moment.”
Hopple began talking to this group of artists in June, she said, curious about what kind of work they were making about the pandemic and the global social justice movement that has filled the streets since the police killing of George Floyd in late May.
The show is the first in the Ranch’s gallery on its Snowmass Village campus since the pandemic closed it in March. A virtual version also is online. The gallery exhibition takes these recent and moving images out of the pages of newspapers or the phone and tablet screens where we’ve all been seeing them in recent months and places them in the permanent and vaunted art gallery space.
“It’s been an interesting process to take these images out of the context of the news and put them together to speak to something we are all going through together,” Hopple said.
Among the photographers is Pulitzer Prize winner Salwan Georges, who has six images included that follow the Ismael children — ages 13, 18 and 20 — whose parents were both killed by COVID-19 this spring, leaving these young Iraqi immigrants, in Georges’ words, “struggling to cope with grief, but also with how to keep a car running, pay bills, be a family.”
Sarah Stacke has been collaborating with her son, a first-grader, while they’ve been home together in the stay-home period, up through their 13th week of lockdown in Brooklyn.
“To process these changes and ease tension from homeschooling tasks, we collaborate on portraits about our pandemic experience,” Stacke wrote of the series.
Amber Bracken, a Canadian photojournalist, has made an intimate self-portrait with her partner, a close shot of her hand on his chest, evoking the tenderness and the luxury of human contact during the pandemic, when many are deprived of human touch.
“One relationship with touch preserved has been a gift,” she wrote.
The West Virginia-based photographer Rebecca Kiger has two images from a George Floyd/Black Lives Matter protest in Wheeling included in the show, indelibly capturing in black-and-white a raised fist in the air. The image stands next to a portrait of a woman who chanted for President Trump amid the protest and a digitally altered self-portrait of Kiger.
Maria Contreras Coll captures the quiet streets of Barcelona — where she is based — during the lockdown there and shares a self-portrait of herself alone watching “Lost in Translation” in the middle of the night, also a close-up of herself burning an unsent letter.
Rory Doyle’s three images capture food insecurity in rural Holmes County, Mississippi, during the pandemic. These images, published in The Guardian in early April with a story about a school official attempting to keep his students from going hungry, helped lead to a wave of support for the people struggling to feed themselves.
“In response to the article, the superintendent of Holmes County Consolidated School District is now receiving donations — and this is the bet news I’ve heard in weeks,” Doyle wrote.
And in San Francisco’s Chinatown, North Beach and The Richmond, photographer Nancy Farase made portraits of those dubbed essential workers as they went back to work in laundries, groceries and restaurants. These images led Hopple to the exhibition’s title.
“I was thinking about the word ‘essential,’” she explained, “and what we are essential to and who we are essential to at this time.”
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