Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Erin O’Keefe, Book of Days @ Denny Gallery

Erin O’Keefe and her work have had a rather profound effect on my thinking about photography. For some time, I’ve had a hard time not evaluating photography by how effectively it communicates an idea about the world.  In my mind, photography was certainly able to be about the medium of photography, and there was work from the Picture Generation that I very much enjoyed, but I tended to draw a line at abstract photography. I thought it was shallow and better left to painting.  But a year ago, I stumbled on O’Keefe’s work in a group show at Ortega y Gasset, and like many, at first didn’t notice that it was a photograph, I was generally struck by what I recall as a wonderfully bright, peppy highlighter palate that was more vibrant than your standard painting. It took a second of non-lazy looking on my part to realize it was a photograph, and the image stayed with me ever since.

In her current show, O’Keefe seems to be having a good time playing around with the way the camera renders physical space. In some of the work, it is almost impossible to discern that what she is photographing is a three-dimensional studio set-up, but then as in some of the larger more monotone images, there are pockets of focus or glimpses of a clear foreground where the picture instantaneously snaps from two-dimensions into three. For a viewer, it is not only exciting, but makes you feel like you have figured something out. Now if playing around in the optics of the medium seems dry and academic, it is hard not to appreciate O’Keefe’s sense of color. For me personally, it’s the first time in a long time that I’ve let go of some old photography baggage and just liked photographs for how they looked. At the end of the day, recognizing that something is visually compelling is not a bad basis to value work.

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