Monday, June 25, 2007

Richard Renaldi: Figure and Ground

Last year when I read in Conscientious, Joerg Colberg's blog, an interview with Richard Renaldi about his book, Figure and Ground, I added that book to my ever expanding Amazon wish list. I brought it back with me in May and I'm just getting around to studying it. In fact, I brought back several photography books of portraiture. Not sure why that seems to be my interest now but I guess time will reveal the "why." And portraiture seems to be a "headline" in the photographic community now with lots on the web about a new gallery exhibition titled A New American Portrait at Jan Bekman's Gallery in New York City.

I hope that you'll read Colberg's interview with Renaldi. But basically Renaldi works with an 8x10 view camera. You don't just "grab" a shot with any view camera. You have to have a relationship and cooperation of the subject. I almost got off on the wrong foot in looking at these portraits because of a sentence on the front jacket:

If there is a truly a new center to the American social landscape, it can be found here, in Renaldi's precisely and beautifully rendered portraits.

This set up an expectation for what I was going to see and what I saw was passengers in bus stations, people in tattoo parlours, workers in fast food restaurants, dying small towns, a transgender girl, a woman in a burqa. Are these images really the new center of the American social landscape? Has our center shifted that much? Where have I been? At any rate that one sentence affected how I initially looked at the images.

And I started thinking about some other photographer's books and it seems that the photography projects most likely to be published are not about the center but are about the edges of culture. Take Avedon's, The American West.....the types and features of people pushed to the edge. Dave Anderson's and O. Rufus Lovett's recent books, Rough Beauty and Weeping Mary, both around communities on the edge. Daniela Rossell's book, Rica Y Famosas about the life styles of Mexico's ultra wealthy. I could name some others but I think you get the idea.

It is always good when you have to analyze your reactions to images. It means that you've learned something from them and something about yourself. I don't believe that Figure and Ground is the new center of the American social least not yet but my reaction sent me back to Colberg's interview with Renaldi and it sent me back to look at the images several more times. Renaldi's portraits are in my opinion about people on the edge, lost, changing, searching. But it is a powerful book of portraits and environments.

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