Last night there was an Open House for all the galleries in the Marshall building in downtown Milwaukee (on the corner of Water and Buffalo Streets, which has got to count for something), and I got to meet Shimon & Lindemann at the Portrait Society Gallery. On view was their Real Photo Postcard Survey, a generous subset of several hundred postcard-sized platinum/palladium portraits they've made over the past three years or so that actually get mailed out as postcards (although I'm not entirely clear to whom they're sent).
Julie and John charge to make the portraits—most of them, anyway—although it's not a straight fee but rather more in the nature of a request for help in subsidizing the art project. They also make an effort to neutralize the troublesome subject/photographer relationship by making the portraits collaborative—the subjects come the way they wish to be seen and stand the way they want, but then they cede the final picture selection to the artists. Each "side" relinquishes a little power and control. It was interesting seeing many of the subjects of the portraits there at the Open House. I had an interesting talk with Drew V.
I also got to see Vanessa Winship's first American show—she's one of my favorite contemporary photographers, on the basis of her Black Sea work—in a small room at the Portrait Society. Most rewarding was hearing gallery owner Debra Brehmer talk about how her relationship with Vanessa's pictures grew over the month they've been on her walls. She has a large and humane take on them, and hearing her insights distilled into a few sentences opened my eyes to things I hadn't seen myself.
I was most charmed by a wall of modern Shimon & Lindemann portraits juxaposed with actual antique full-body portrait postcards (on the left wall, above). Julie and John—who, between them, share a single teaching position at Lawrence University in Appleton—have a highly developed curatorial sense in their art, and I loved the side-by-side old and new portraits—the echoes, resemblances, variations and differences the artists discovered between two photographs taken many decades apart. The idea didn't grab some people I talked to, but fascinated me.
In another room were a series of large color portraits from the same portrait sessions. On their blog they write that "A series of lifesize portraits from 8x10 transparencies made with an 11x14 Deardorff studio view camera came out of the project. The scale (72x28") emphasized the physicality of the body and the presentation of self. Scanned at high resolution and output on an Epson 9800 wide format inkjet printer on canvas, the portraits reference Rembrandt and Van Dyke paintings whose subjects were royals and the petite bourgeoisie."
I've written about it before, but another plug here for a recent favorite—Unmasked & Anonymous: Shimon & Lindemann Consider Portraiture, the only one of Shimon & Lindemann's five books I've seen. A description of the exhibition on which the book was based: it "juxtaposes 43 of their original photographs...with 54 portraits from the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Collection, including daguerreotypes, as well as photographs by Alfred Stieglitz, Diane Arbus, Sally Mann, and Larry Clark, among others, to present new perspectives on one of the oldest artistic genres—portraiture."
It's a modest book but it encapsulates an enormous amount of work. It took them two years to go through all of the portraits in the Milwaukee Art Museum's holdings to make their selections for the show and book—they believe they saw virtually every photographic portrait the museum has. I have friends who are disc jockeys and film directors who make expert mixes to share music, and my take is that Unmasked & Anonymous is like a well-made mixed tape or CD—a tasty program. Lots of enjoyment here, in this small book.
Home is where the pictures are
Photographers have to go where their pictures are. John Shimon and Julie Lindemann met in college, moved to New York City to be artists, and promptly moved back when they realized they had to photograph what they knew best. One way or another they've been photographing Midwesterners ever since.
(Thanks to Art, Kate, and Deb)
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Chris Norris: "I had my portrait taken by Julie and Jonnie. I woke up god-awfully early on a Saturday morning, kissed my girlfriend (now-fiancee) goodbye and drove from Madison to Manitowoc. I got there early and walked around for a while, making the occasional picture. When my time rolled around, I made my way to their studio. They are two incredibly nice and engaging people and I really enjoyed my time there. For me, it was a big transitional period in my life and I'm glad to have a portrait that represents that time. The money spent was well worth it, as I now have a bunch of postcards and two platinum/palladium prints. I had never seen a Pt/Pd print before this.
"So to answer an earlier question, the postcards go out to whomever the sitter wants to send them to. I sent one to J&J at their request and have been musing about what to do with the rest. While I was at their studio Julie showed me a number of old postcards they had collected, with writing on the back. People marking important times in their lives, letting their families know how they were doing, etc. It's interesting to see how people will use their postcards in this digital age."