“The idea is to bring something different to the community,” says Jen Ervin of the two-part photography exhibition she’s curated, now open at Redux Contemporary Art Center. “Redux really offers a chance for artists who are trying to push boundaries.” Ervin hopes the show reflects the dialogue that takes place between photographer and subject and that a dialogue is created in turn between viewers and the displayed work.
The Arc is Ervin’s own photo series and half of the exhibition. The series chronicles segments of a summer spent along the Little Pee Dee River with her daughters. It attempts to immortalize these memories and contemplates the ephemeral nature of time.
As your eyes move from photo to photo, you can almost hear the rippling of the sunlit water and the crunch of leaves beneath her daughters’ bare feet. She’ll show several of these images presented in a narrative grid format, as well as some experimental films.
Ervin used a Polaroid Land Camera to create the series, a vintage model of the iconic camera brand that produces smaller prints and requires a manual development process. The tiny print is carefully pulled through a slot on the camera, initiating a chemical reaction.
After the photo has set, two outer layers are peeled away from either side of the photograph revealing a one-of-a-kind, dark room style print. “It became more and more meaningful to use this type of film to capture these personal, once-in-a-lifetime moments,” says Ervin. “These prints are very fragile and unique.”
Illumination, Ritual, Reflection, the second half of the exhibition, features nine additional photographers with whom Ervin feels a transcendental creative connection. The collection emphasizes that the creative process is a conversation between the self and the environment — whether physically represented by nature and human relationships, or intangibly by the passage of time, identity, or pursuit of the sublime.
“I wanted to bring in diverse works on a wide range of scale,” explains Ervin. “I hope to help people make connections through this diversity and to open doors to see photography as an avenue for experimentation or reflection.”
As a whole, each photographer in the exhibition offers an honest impression of human experience, intimate moments candidly captured, and a dreamy sense of nostalgia. Though there are many intricate nuances and connections that could be explored within each artist’s work, you can differentiate them by moving from the more documentarian to the abstract.
[image-3] Take Noelle McCleaf, whose series offers an intimate glimpse into the lives of two women: Evie Lou and Laura Jane, dear friends and spiritual healers. (Evie Lou is also McCleaf’s mother.) McCleaf beautifully captures their deep spiritual connection with each other and the natural world.
“They’re very large works, so you’re confronted in a gentle way with the presence of these powerful women that are on the periphery of society,” says Ervin. “Noelle offers an unconventional demonstration of beauty in these women and in the land.”
Seemingly candid moments are also captured in the work of Neal Casal and Michael McCraw. Casal, as a solitary traveling musician, observes the reality of life on the road, while McCraw’s work seems pulled from a family photo album. Though their subjects differ, both offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse into daily routines.
Ervin says that McCraw, who weaves together his photographs with his writings, has a “Jack Kerouac beat poet spirit.” She says, “It’s not just creating the singular object or capturing a moment. He takes it further and tells you his thoughts in a beautiful and poetic way.”
Ashley Gates’ work revolves around a sense of place as she confronts memories of growing up in the South. “Her individual pieces trigger memory, first and foremost her own, but there’s a feeling of nostalgia when you look at them,” says Ervin.
Local photographer and professor at CofC, John Hathaway, brings us back to humanity’s relationship with nature. His photos set within the Cherokee National Forest are reminiscent of Ervin’s work.
Jordanna Kalman, on the other hand, brings the environment to her photos, layering bits of natural elements like leaves, insects, and sunlight onto black and white images of the female form. “She’s creating distance between the viewer and the concept of womanhood,” says Ervin. “She’s trying to shift your perspective of how women feel and experience life.”
[image-4] This physical interaction with the photos extends to Jesse Koechling’s work. Described by Ervin as “a dark room machine,” Koechling isn’t afraid to rip, mark, and layer his meticulously developed photographs. In doing so, he creates new forms, or “transcendental relics of his own memory” as Ervin calls them.
Richard McCabe works with the same kind of polaroids as Ervin and is best known for his series Landstar, documenting images of the South, but he’s also created the large-scale, abstract Color Series. “They kind of remind me a little bit of Mark Rothko’s color pieces,” she says. “They’re just a profoundly calming, reflective experience, but there’s a great deal of thought behind them.” Picture several photographs of solid color, each placed with intention within a grid format.
Moving from the abstract to the surreal, Rebecca Drolen’s Hair Pieces question society’s relationship with what many of us consider essential to our self-image: our hair. She assembles hair — in bizarre lengths, contexts, and physical locations — and invites the viewer to question why hair becomes grotesque when it’s removed from the body or presented in an unusual way.
There’s a lot going on here which is exactly why you shouldn’t miss it. These pieces must be viewed in person to truly grasp the universality of what Ervin’s assembled. “Through creative expression, we understand ourselves, our environment and how to process that relationship,” says Ervin. “I want people to be compelled to ask some questions and make some new connections.”
The exhibition runs through May 23.