Openings are the best kind of parties—free food and wine (even if it is served in plastic cups), interesting people, and good atmosphere. Of course, more often than not, people are looking at each other rather than at the art. Last night's opening reception for New Photography: McKnight Fellows 2006/2007 at the Minnesota Center for Photography was packed and people were talking about the photos. Given the many distractions available, that's a good sign.
The show features new work by Orin Rutchick, Kristine Heykants, Mickey Smith, and Angela Strassheim. Rutchick turns his camera on tourists, often with whimsical results. His Push Button Memories project captures scenes familiar to anyone who has visited a landmark—people posing for cameras. It's the stuff of family photo albums, but with a twist. The images—taken at Graceland, Alcatraz, Kennedy Space Center, and Hoover Dam—catch people unaware in moments of calculated observation or, as the description of the show puts it, in the "willful, if chimerical, creation of memories."
From landmarks to laundromats, Heykants offers a different sort of unguarded moment. Her images echo the stylized scenes of certain Cindy Sherman photos. Heykants shows us women caught in a moment of thought, or maybe hesitation, against a variety of backdrops: a laundromat, a kitchen, a cowboy saloon. They look like they can sense trouble coming.
Strassheim does something similar with images of oddly private public moments (and vice versa). Young women huddled together dissecting a cat, an unhappy young couple visible through glass doors, a group of nude young people eating roasted marshmallows around a bonfire, a rather demure red-haired nude perched atop a library counter, in each case the outward drama implies a more complex inner state.
And speaking of libraries, Smith's images of huge oversized book spines with the stark heavily-bound look of reference tomes evokes a whole other kind of drama. Her cleverly framed images offer up a simple pallette of green, black, and yellow spines embossed in black and gold with single words: "Life," "Progress," "Endeavor" (the last bracketed by an "Or" and "End"). Simple and striking.
New Photography runs through October 7.