Just a year ago in the fall of 2017 the first SOLO I exhibition by Los Angeles photographer Jill Beth Hannes was opening at the FotoFilmic PULP Gallery on Bowen Island, Vancouver, BC. Five editions later – and whole lot of great new photographic talents met and celebrated since through that year – we couldn’t be more excited to welcome on our latest archived FotoFilmic exhibition page SOLO VI juror Danny Lyon‘s award recipient Matthew Barbarino, as well as as his 2 mentions, Runners-Up Rob Hornstra & Deborah Sfez!
Many strong competing applications were very well received by Danny, who devoted for each careful attention and hours at times considering their respective strengths as new photographic evidences of the complex, decentered and globalized world we live in today. Following the immersive, slightly radical yet highly empathetic philosophy that has come to characterize his signature works since the late 1960s (also known then as ‘new journalism’), Danny’s jurying picks gravitate towards projects with a strong, willing edge unmasking social exclusion and stigmata, as well as toward works able to cast a strong light on memorial importance and the manifesting of dark lessons from the past into our often disturbing, backward sociopolitical present.
Congratulations again to all 3 SOLO VI photographers & we hope you enjoy as much as we do the great artistic breadth of both their photographic series & featured artist profiles below!
WINNER & EXHIBITOR: MATTHEW BARBARINO
An ex-addict turned photographer (and RISD graduate), Matthew has been extensively documenting for years his immediate social surroundings in his hometown of Binghamton, NY, where many of his closest friends still struggle with heroin addiction and the postindustrial economic depression still affecting most rust belt small towns to this day.
SOLO VI Exhibition: Matthew Barbarino
June 14 – July 14, 2019
FotoFilmic PULP Gallery
BOWEN ISLAND, VANCOUVER BC, CANADA
“Matthew Barbarino of Binghamton, New York:
Photographs of heroin and old friends in Binghamton, New York. In the tradition of Larry Clark and Nan Goldin, Matthew is a survivor with the grace to catch a pigeon’s shadow or the grim winter day of another New York State town no one wants to live in. He writes well too.“
— Danny Lyon
We recently asked Matthew a few questions about social documentary culture and his own photographic practice, as well as about life at home both in Binghamton, New York:
I grew up outside of Binghamton NY, a small factory town on the eastern tip of what is being called the US Rust belt. In the mid 90’s, industry began to leave and hasn’t come back. The area has never recovered.
I started shooting heroin when I was 16. So did most of my friends. Like most young people, we all dreamt of leaving town one day and going somewhere new, but most never did. I struggled with the drug for about the next ten years, taking odd jobs here and there, frequently in and out of halfway houses and treatment facilities, several times leaving home for another place, another life, a “geographical solution” as its sometimes put. But again and again I ended up back home, always to the same results.
In 2012 I was living in halfway house, working a landscaping job with my sponsor Greg, and talking about the future. He came across some drawings I’d done and vehemently encouraged me to apply to art school. I protested, explaining that no one around here does that, that I’d been thrown out of high school and barely graduated from alternative school and that my grades were terrible, that I’d never taken my SAT’s and was not college material.
But Greg persisted and 3 years and several relapses later, I found myself accepted to the Rhode Island School of Design.
Since then I’ve gone back home regularly to see what has become of my home town and to check in on my friends. I go to see how they’ve developed, what they’re doing and where their lives are headed. Having had a glimpse of life beyond Binghamton, I also go to see what shape my home is in, and to try to make sense of it all. No one ever can ever truly leave this place. Whether it lives or dies, it is in me and always will be.
In this series I document the lives of several close friends living in Binghamton NY.
Binghamton is not unique. It is one of many small American towns currently dealing with the exodus of industry, economic decline, and rampant heroin addiction. Many photographers may come into places like this from somewhere else, hoping to gain understanding, or a glimpse into an unfamiliar world. But my project is not about someone else’s town, it is about my home. The people in the pictures are not random subjects, but my lifelong friends. The project is not an attempt to understand someone else’s world, it is an attempt to understand myself, to learn who I am and where I come from and how to orient myself in a new world.
My work is not expository or polemic. I use the camera not to supplant statistics or sociological data, not to build any argument or make any case, but to transmit experience. There is no cause for which these pictures were made except that most primal impulse to describe visually what one sees, to communicate by way of pictures the substance of one’s being. These pictures describe a place, but only as I have experienced it.
At the end of the day film is essentially a wet medium. As such, blur, grain, and minor distortions may be allowed to become intrinsic, descriptive elements in the picture rather than flaws to be eliminated. In my view, the clarity of a photograph should not exceed the clarity of the subject. And any subject, certainly my subjects, are complex, hazy, lacking focus, because of the complexity of their condition and the energy of their environment. Because the world often lacks certainty and total definition, photographing with to much aesthetic precision extricates much of what is actually there, and deadens the image. Due to its tactility and its greater malleability, film allows these elements to animate my pictures in a way that digital cannot.
RUNNER UP: ROB HORNSTRA
Between 2004 and 2013 Dutch documentary photographer (and Co-Head of the Royal Academy of Art’s Photography Department in The Hague) Ron Hornstra photographed his now deceased working class neighbor ‘Kid’. Kid lived a troubled life subjected to diabetes, heavy drugs and alcohol use, lack of work, all within tumultuous familial settings with his wife and young son leaving him. Although centered on Kid, the resulting ‘Man Next Door’ project and book is also, in Rob’s own words, “about the stigmatization and prejudice that exists in society towards the working class’.
Rob Hornstra, born in 1975 in the Netherlands, is a Dutch photographer of predominantly long-term documentary projects, both at home and around the world. He has published several books of solo work, produced documentary series for a variety of international magazines, and taken part in numerous solo and group exhibitions in the Netherlands and abroad. In 2009, Hornstra and writer/filmmaker Arnold van Bruggen started The Sochi Project, culminating in the retrospective book An Atlas of War and Tourism in the Caucasus and an exhibition that toured Europe, America, India and Canada. He is the founder and former artistic director of FOTODOK – Space for Documentary Photography. Four times per year he runs a popular live talkshow about photo books in his home town Utrecht. He is head of the photography department at the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague.
In 2004, photographer Rob Hornstra moved to Ondiep, a working-class neighbourhood in the northwest of Utrecht. There he photographed his now deceased neighbour, Kid, resulting in the project Man Next Door.
Hornstra first met Kid in 2004 when he was moving in to his new home: Kid appeared shirtless to ask Hornstra what he was doing there. From that moment on, Kid regularly kept an eye on Hornstra’s house whenever he was working abroad. Hornstra helped Kid in turn by lending him his phone when he had no credit. Kid could not read well, so Hornstra also helped him with his post. Things calmed down in Kid’s house when his wife and eight-year-old son fled to a women’s refuge. Kid had diabetes and was heavily addicted to drugs and alcohol. During good periods, Kid was at home, where Hornstra photographed him. When things were bad, Kid roamed around Utrecht’s city centre. Hornstra saw Kid very little in the last year of his life. Kid’s body was found between two boats in the Singel canal in Utrecht on 2 June 2013. He was 42 years old.
Hornstra was already familiar with Ondiep and its residents before moving there through his earlier work as probation officer. He liked the directness and loyalty of the locals, who were good neighbours to each other. This project is not specifically about Kid, but is about the stigmatization and prejudice that exists in society towards the working class. With this work, Hornstra attempts to speak with people rather than about them. How well do you know your neighbours?
I am under no illusion that my work is going to change the world on a grand scale. I suspect that film, for example, is a much better medium to reach a mass audience. However, I believe that photography can engage people in complex stories in a way that words cannot do. One of the most attractive aspects of photography is that it leaves a lot of room for interpretation by the viewer.
RUNNER UP: DEBORAH SFEZ
Deborah is an Israeli visual artist working in photography and video whose work focuses on the ups and downs of human existence through the themes of femininity, identity and loss. In her project ‘The Mummies From Dresden’ she reappropriates found imagery from an unknown German family taken during the WWII period of 1930-1948. By rephotographing each historical photograph from that family album accidentally found in Dresden after all faces were rendered anonymous with handmade red embroidery, Deborah wishes to give the documents a newfound, material life invoking the medium’s essence itself while dealing with the ever hard questions of photographic truth, representation, memory and history.
Deborah Sfez is an Israeli artist born in 1964, now working in Israel and Ivory Coast, focusing on the fields of Photography and Video in all their creative configurations. She studied French and English Literature in Haifa University, Fashion Design in ESMOD Paris, and Scenery and Costume Design at Rakefet Levi school of Theatre Design in Tel Aviv. She has been practicing the profession of Fashion Design and Theatre Costume Design for over twenty years before she decided to concentrate exclusively on Art.
Deborah’s photography and video works have been exhibited in Israel, France, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy, England and the U.S.A all within the last five years, gaining her international acknowledgment while also receiving several photography and art prizes.
Her work mainly focuses on the ups and downs of human existence, with recurring explorations of existential experience, partnership, the overcoming of sickness, the fear of life, and the beauty of being a woman along the impossibility of perfection. Photography for her means first and foremost engaging in creative research. She started her photographic researches with a series of hundreds of self-portraits presenting as many different characters using heavy make up, costumes and wigs to transform and visualize her whole identity. Later on she started using these various self-portraits in a more complex way as part of larger photography or video installations including text and sound written and composed by her.
THE MUMMIES FROM DRESDEN
Photography, for me, means creative research. It is a tool in the process of creating an image. I believe that the strongest and quickest way to communicate an idea is through an image.
This year I found in Dresden (Germany) a small album with very small pictures of a German family taken during the World War II years of 1930-1948. I photographed them again digitally and covered all the faces with hand made red embroidery to make them anonymous and look like Mummies.
There are no evidences of any war in the pictures, no soldiers, no signs of destruction, only peaceful photos of a traditional German family of those years, except one picture of 1947 showing a couple on their wedding day sitting on a bench while behind them we notice two buildings: on the right a building in good shape and on the left a completely destroyed one, the latter being the location they have chosen for their wedding photo to show their children.
I have decided to give these little photos a new life and shoot them again with a digital camera, enlarge them and cover all the faces with red embroidery, first technically to cover their identity and secondly to make them unrecognizable and anonymous. By erasing their identity they become like marionettes, all alike which allows the viewer to concentrate on their body attitude, the way they are dressed up, their posture and the fashionable looks of their time. These members of a single family thus become like corps with no faces, just like Mummies of ancient times. In ancient Egypt there was a popular belief that when a person died it was the beginning of a long journey for him/her. They therefore believed the body should be preserved, wrapped up in many layers of resin coated linen cloth to keep the moist away and prevent the body from decomposing after death.
I certainly think that photography is a living evidence of its dead subjects. Therefore by “injecting” red thread into photographic paper I add a material that, like for the Mummies, preserve the photographs as a living material piece of an artistic document. The journey that starts in the eye of the viewer goes beyond photography and deals with the essence of the media itself.
We are now presented with a series of unknown existences in a known historical period, which begs such questions as: what is a Family Album? What is photography about? What role do photographs embody as historical documents? And can we trust it? What is it people choose to show in their albums, and what is it they choose to omit? These are hard, disturbing questions dealing with truth, honesty, education to the next generation, memory and truthful history narrating.
Half of my work in general is analog, though it always ends up altered with some computer work. Original analog photography is somehow profound, warm, delicate and more sentimental for me. Photography on film is material, it is the result of a mixture of materially existing entities in our world. When I am working on film I feel more like a magician or a chemist.