Nov 8, 2011

REVIEW | The Dazzling Instant | The Wittliff Collections | Alkek Library

Flor Garaduno, Camino al Composanto, Silver Gelatin Print ,1988

When walking into such a large space, it was intimidating at first.  Being a photographer, it’s overwhelming; the excitement I felt was indescribable. If I had to make an association with anything it would be the heart racing sensation you get when you see the one you love, in this case the thing I love. To have these images encapsulated into this space was something a student of the medium can lose themselves in for hours. To be able to see the works of those dating back to the great depression and some from our contemporaries is something that should be applauded. Those in charge of the Wittliff collections did a remarkable job in selecting works that embody the south and culture that represents this and surrounding areas. To maintain a uniformed identity without diluting the individuality of each work is outstanding on their part. 

Many of the photos seem to be a character study, they read as snapshot memories of the southern United States and Latino cultures in a very candid and intimate way. Many reflect the trials of life, the pain and sorrow we all experience in life. Ultimately where this collection succeeds is how it brings out the beauty and complexity of these images. It lies within our ability to sympathize and relate to these individuals represented. Within my own experience of touring the gallery, I connected with the southern Latino aspect. It reflected my upbringing and reminded me of the generational stories passed along through my family. I loved how some of the images provided a visual for some of the stories passed along from my grandparents. This connection furthered my engagement and appreciation for these works and the gallery as a whole.
Manuel Alvarez Bravo, El Ensueno, Platinum Print, 1931

The photo is 80 years old; the true beauty of it lays in how it transcends time and maintains this beautiful quality of timelessness. The far off, seemingly lost gaze of the young girl is stunning. I looked upon the photo and began to wonder what was going on through her mind. Was it the loss of a loved one? Perhaps the look of a young girl experiencing her first heartbreak. Or is it simpler than that? Maybe exactly what the title suggests, a daydream. Nothing more, nothing less; merely a young girl losing herself in thought to pass along the mundane ness of the day. But as I began to examine the photo further, I began to try and dissect the reasons for the composition and lighting by the photographer. The lighting and how she uses the rail as a crutch to me might suggest an inner conflict or struggle. The only glimmer of bright light appears on her right shoulder; maybe  the angel on her shoulder amidst the darkness.

Dorthea Lange, Migrant Mother, Silver Gelatin Print, 1936
32, but the lines on the face and stress in the brow pain in the eyes suggest a much older and stronger person than anyone of 32 I've met. Seemingly a victim of the depression, to me she embodied American strength at the time. She is the source of strength to her young family. Her children take refuge and shelter at her shoulders. I was completely taken by this photo, to see one of the most significant photos in history in a text book is one thing, but to see it in person was something that can not be put into words. For that I am truly grateful to have gained that experience.  

The one image I found most striking and breathtaking is unfortunately one I cannot find a image for and the gallery does not allow photographs of the work to be taken, which makes it all the more alluring for those who have not visited the gallery. The photograph I’m speaking of is Marco Antonio Cruz’s, El Encadenado de Ex-San Juan de Letran. The moment I saw this image I stopped mid stride and just stared, absorbing all of the information given. I studied every bit of information on the page. Aesthetically speaking I was in heaven, immediately I recalled the work of Gary Winogrand. I reminded myself how much more beautiful and more meaningful a candid snapshot can be than a staged photo. Every emotion captured in this image was genuine, from the pain and anguish of the enchained man who seems to be walking around in a frantic daze as the world passes him by unconcerned. He is ultimately only acknowledged by three people; the photographer, the viewer and the well dressed man to his left. The seemingly wealthy man’s face suggests a curiosity that he could not help but satisfy. He keeps his distance from the man; his body language suggests he does not intend to break his stride to help the man. The emotion on his face does not show any sign of sympathy nor pity, only the look one would give a beggar as he pleads for change, something that is beneath us. In my opinion this is the most powerful image in the gallery, one that shows ones pain and another’s disinterest.

-Eric Sepulveda


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