Friday, November 03, 2006

J.M. Giordano: Blunt Romance

J.M. Giordano photographs a room of empty metal folding chairs. The effect, the composition, is visually arresting, the rows of curved chair tops against the rich blue walls of the room like a shoal of shellfish in a tidal pool. The photograph in its intensity of color and light and arrangement is almost painterly, an interrogation of the senses. And yet, it is a photograph, a document, of a real place in real time, the defunct meeting hall of a defunct steel mill, the chairs standing so orderly, patiently for bodies that won't again fill them. The photo asks a question, what has happened here? that is meant to engage us with the world, even as it presents a nearly idealized portrait of it.

For J.M., a good photograph is one that presents its subject as emotionally unencumbered as possible, that depicts a scene or person head on and allows the viewer to bring his or her own judgment to it. As he says of one of his portraits in his Stainless series, pictures of retired Bethlehem Steel workers and their now empty plant, "that photograph of Pete is so sad. But I didn't make him sad, didn't sit him down in front of a white background for you to interpret him in that way." And this quality, this almost sense of "banality," as J.M. calls it, is found in many of his photos. The picture of Pete—there in his foam cap, standing in his wood-paneled room—is presented with a flatness of effect, a compositional quality that says, this is what it's like, what Pete is like, at home, right now, no frills.

And yet, there is a tension in J.M.'s work between his desire for bluntness—"I am a realist," he says—and the need to invest his photos with more than fact, more than the unadorned world. It is this tension that gives the photos in, for example, his American Boxing series a hint of surrealism, a gritty portrayal of fighters and their environment that nevertheless takes on a bit of otherworldly glow. His picture of the trophies the boxers bring home after a successful bout gives a sense of the paltriness of the prize, such tiny golden trinkets, but the bright, saturated reds, the gleaming light, infuse the photo with a kind of hard-edged romance, rich but tough.

In speaking with J.M., it quickly becomes apparent that his artistic influences arise as much from painting as photography. "I try to think like a painter for certain photos," he says, "with a painter's eye," adding that he is a big fan of both the German romantic painter Casper David Friedrich and of the American Ashcan school, the group of New York realists interested in the urban poor. Here again, in these influences, we see the pull between an idealized, romantic world and the search for a certain gritty bluntness. We also see how, in photographs like that of the mist rising over a decaying industrial site, the tension between the need to compose a vivid scene and the wish to let the picture tell its own story, a tension the Ashcan painters must have felt themselves.

As J.M. says of one of his favorite photo-graphers, Alex Soth, "when you look at those photos, they make you think. That's good photography." We see this in his Stainless photos, and we see it in the American Darkness series, portraits of the American landscape post-9/11, guns, barbershops, street corners, mostly empty, always dark. That darkness, as he says, is as much metaphoric as literal, a pessimistic comment on the current state of the country. The thought that stands behind the photos, the theme, night, rubs against their quiet composition, the random nonrandom patterns of shadow and white light, the pull of reality and surreality, commentary and documentary, the tension that causes us to stop a moment and linger.
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See Stainless at Baltimore's Creative Alliance Nov 4 to Dec 16, 2006.


Blogger Unknown said...

Hey Joe, we need more art like this, I love the photo of the chairs, all of them, thanks once again, wonderful work by all..xo

That darkness, as he says, is as much metaphoric as literal, a pessimistic comment on the current state of the country.

1:24 PM  
Blogger Baltimore Interview said...

Thanks, Patricia!

9:21 AM  
Blogger cole edwards said...

Wow. I was looking for Joe Smith, but I seem to have gone to the wrong site.

Nice writing though. If you like that sort of thing. You know, words and such.

4:17 PM  
Blogger Baltimore Interview said...

Thanks, Cole Tedwards. Joe Smith is out of the office, getting a molar pulled I believe. He likes words and such.

6:43 AM  
Blogger cole edwards said...

I just went and saw this show during the Merry Mart and I have to say I liked them better in person. great lighting. Lovely color.

And also, since I came back, I can find a nice handbag AND get some penis enlargement. Just in time for the holidays.

10:50 AM  
Blogger Baltimore Interview said...

Yep, it's a cool show, Cole. Thanks.

7:06 AM  
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