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The Inner Lens

Legendary photographer Ansel Adams once said, "I have often thought that if photography were difficult in the true sense of the term -- meaning that the creation of a simple photograph would entail as much time and effort as the production of a good watercolor or etching -- there would be a vast improvement in total output. The sheer ease with which we can produce a superficial image often leads to creative disaster."

Since snapping a picture takes only about 1/500th of a second, the world is indeed cluttered with blurry snapshots, bad Polaroids, and amateur porn. But the reverse -- a handful or two of works of genius -- is out there too. After slogging through gajillions of "creative disasters," the curators at the Norton Museum of Art bring us "Focus On: New Photography" -- a compelling and sometimes disturbing exhibit of images from modern photographers.

This is the second in an ongoing series of photo exhibits whose pieces come from the museum's permanent collection. The Norton's curators have had the foresight to acquire pieces from young, contemporary artists like New York-based Nikki S. Lee, a Korean immigrant who researches specific social groups -- skateboarders or swingers -- then dresses up like them and gets herself in the picture, like a hipper Cindy Sherman. (Although she's credited as the photographer, Lee often asks a friend or stranger to press the shutter release.) She works on one series at a time -- see the 35-year-old passing for a granny in The Seniors Project, wearing waaay too much lip liner in The Hispanic Project, and toting a camera around her neck in The Tourist Project.

Hanging beside Lee's is the work of German photographer Loretta Lux, 36, who shoots pale, white children against a blank wall, then, using computer imaging, superimposes them against empty landscapes that resemble Teletubbyland. The kids dress in vintage clothes and never smile. The result is simultaneously soothing and creepy -- like watching Tinky-Winky rub his belly in the "Tubby Custard Mess" episode or looking at that weird, drooling baby who lives in the sun.

Then there's Oliver Boberg, 39, who constructs cardboard models of empty shipping docks, overpasses, and apartment buildings, then takes pictures of them. Or Shizuka Yokomizo, 38, whose sparse and delicately lit pictures of fleeting moments follow no particular theme yet have a universal feel. She's photographed a woman in an elevator with groceries, the hands of a person playing piano, an empty garden. Jenny Lynn, 50, mounts groups of her images onto stacked cubes that resemble totem poles or packages them in sets inside boxes. One critic, looking at a series of Lynn's pictures -- a shot of dolphins, an image of pyramids, a gloved hand, a man whose head is wrapped in gauze -- likened them to a pack of tarot cards.

If these artists provide any indication of what's to come in the art world, you don't need a tarot reading to know the future looks bright for these photographers, if a little eerie.

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Deirdra Funcheon

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