Beverly & Sam Ross Gallery
Christian Brothers University, Memphis, TN
August 15, 2014- October 2, 2014
A coextensive space was created in this quaint gallery on the bottom floor of the Plough Library at Christian Brothers University. This surprisingly intimate and relatable show made of 106 Memphian faces was exhibited by a group of nineteen photographers from the Memphis Camera Club. The photography cohesively represented a selected, diverse body of men, women, and children. The demographics were varying.
Though knowingly evident in the attempt, the inclusive nature is still appreciated by the viewer. The faces of Memphis line the walls, three high, making no room for unfilled space. Not only do the faces look at you from every height, from child to grown man, but they look down on you as well, in groupings of two lining the ceiling above, creating a cocoon of familiarity amongst strangers. The comfortable, cozy spotlighting is combined with the ease of natural sunlight streaming in through a row of ceiling-adjacent windows. This sliver of nature hovers over the space, accenting the black-and-white photography within an organic encasement.
The tone of the artwork and the method by which it is displayed is the driving force of the exhibit. The familiarity, approachability, and intimacy of candid portraiture nestle closely with the neighboring studio pieces. The two dwell seamlessly together, creating a harmonious intermingling of the unabashed and the cultivated. Many of the faces shown look directly at the viewer breaking the fourth wall of conscious distance, promoting an exchange of knowing gazes. Those subjects looking off in the distance still maintain an awareness that they are the focus of attention. Other faces, the few between, shield their eyes from the camera’s lens, the eyes that, for the others, are a source of unique identification. Whether this is for self-conscious preservation on behalf of the subject or just situationally convenient at the moment of the photo’s capture, the effect is undoubtedly an odd paradox of identity and mystery.
The most endearing quality of Face It Memphis! is its humble sense of self. This show knows what it is and achieves it in stride. It is simplistic from its founding idea through its execution. There is no pretentious dialogue beyond what is given. The photographers are forward in their approach and cohesively unified in their objective. The result is a fluid series of moments captured to embody the spirit of Memphis.Tessa Harrelson is a writer, curator, and art historian based in Memphis.