2009 Photo Miami Review

Editor's Note: Photo Miami, the 4th annual contemporary international fair of photo-based art, video, and new media was held in Florida on December 1 – 6, 2009. The following is a review of the fair as seen through the eyes of photographer Selina Roman. The opinions expressed in this post are not necessarily those of the editor.

by Selina Roman

In its fourth year, the photo Miami art fair has brought exclusive attention to the medium that has been an afterthought at the larger art fairs during Art Basel Miami.

This year, 26 galleries showed at the fair covering approximately 30,000 square feet in a former Circuit City store. While a good deal of the work did not stand out, there were several surprises.

Carrie Mae Weems' Political Leaders
Renowned African-American photographer Carrie Mae Weems was a featured artist at this year’s fair. Her work was represented in two booths, Lightwork and the Charles Guice Contemporary Gallery, as well as in a large-scale video installation.



Weems, whose photographs typically depict the black experience in America, created a new level of social conscientiousness with her piece, Political Leaders, exhibited by the Charles Guice Contemporary Gallery. According to a gallery staffer, the piece had not been exhibited before the fair.

Political Leaders consists of 30 individually framed photos of famous and infamous political icons such as Ghandi, Malcolm X, Winston Churchill, Pol Pot and Osama bin Laden. The photos do not adhere to any particular style – some are formal portraits, while others are shots taken during speeches or parades. At first glance, it feels as if the viewer has been hit with a pop quiz and must identify each leader.

Although Weems did not actually create any of the photographs, the piece’s emotional pull is not weakened. To see all of these faces in one blow is quite powerful because they are loaded images. Each viewer will react differently based on his or her own histories, values and political leanings. In comparison to the other works at the fair, Weems’ piece was the most politically charged.

I am interested in why Weems chose these leaders and if there is any significance in their order on the grid. Some of the leaders, like Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr., are undoubtedly the good guys, stirring feelings of passion, dedication and determination. Then there are the ominous faces of Osama bin Laden and Pol Pot.

Photography by Carrie Mae Weems
From the series, Political Leaders © Carrie Mae Weems

The grid concept seems symbolic of the world order of things. Just as each country has its boundaries, each leader is contained by the picture frame. A step back, however, reveals the interconnectivity of these leaders and their lives.

Weems’ work from “Embracing Eatonville” was featured at the Lightwork booth, a nonprofit photography organization that offers an artist-in-residence program, publications and exhibitions. “Embracing Eatonville” is a body of work showing scenes of Eatonville, Florida, the oldest black incorporated town in the U.S.

According to Lightwork’s website, photographers Dawoud Bey, Lonnie Graham, Carrie Mae Weems and Deborah Willis “spent time in Eatonville making photographs in an effort to provide a meaningful reflection of Eatonville's spirit and character.” Dawoud Bey’s portrait Jason embodies the town’s determination and confidence.

photo MIAMI 2009 was Lightwork’s first time showing at the fair that is mainly comprised of private galleries.

Mary Goodwin, Lightwork’s associate director, called this year’s appearance an experiment, and added that being at the fair was a great way to expose the program, the artists and their work to a new audience. She said that the organization is “able to offer groundbreaking imagery at an accessible price.” For example, Lightwork offered a portfolio of limited edition prints for $1,000.

Photography by Paola de Grenet
From the series, Albino Beauty © Paola de Grenet

Paola de Grenet's Albino Beauty
While a lot of the imagery contained in photo Miami seemed more safe than contemporary, a few bright spots shone through the cracks.

Paola de Grenet’s haunting portrait study “Albino Beauty” was captivating. From children to adults, Grenet’s series beautifully documented those with albinism. According to her website, she wanted to show the beauty of albinism and shed the stigma associated with it.

View Selina Roman's latest series on her blog, The Burqa Project.

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