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Jamie Kreher at Good Citizen

[uds-billboard name=”jk”]Photography is arguably the most democratic art form. Nearly all of us have experience with all aspects of photography, from being the photographer, to being the photographed, to viewing and touching the printed form itself.  We know what it is like to handle a camera and to be in a photograph, something we might not all able to say of, for example, working with marble, posing for hours for a sculpture, and feeling it in its final, smooth form.

In St. Louis-based artist Jamie Kreher’s new photographic installation at Good Citizen Gallery, Equivalents, Kreher embraces the philosophy that photography should be looked at and touched in its tangible, printed form.  There are no mounted, framed photographs to be found.  Rather, Kreher has brought photography down from its expected place of vertical presentation on the gallery wall to a flat, horizontal presentation on six tables, arranged in two columns in the gallery. Each table has two chairs in which visitors are encouraged to sit down and sift through, touch, and even re-arrange the over 800, 4×4 digital c-prints spread out over them.  The tables are arranged loosely by season, from Fall 2010 up to Winter 2012.  Each table has distinctly different color schemes and thematics both because of the season and the selection. The Summer 2011 tables, for example, are full of brightly colored sunsets, textures of the desert, and motel, diner, and gas station road signs, taken on a road trip through the American West.  The Winter tables have more darker, indoor, domestic shots.  There is also a projector which shows groups of images together, for example, buildings, that you might not have noticed are related as they have been moved throughout the course of the exhibition. The best part? The photos are $4 each and you can take them home with you on the spot.

There are several critical themes going on here that relate both to Art History and art as experience.  The idea of sitting down in an art gallery, of taking our time physically perusing the photographs speaks to interactive art specific to a more contemporary viewer, but also to something of a lost art: photo album arranging.  Traditionally considered a respectable activity for well-off young women or their mothers, arranging the family photo album was done with resolute care and attention to detail in the late 19th century when portrait studios were opening to great acclaim in nearly every decent-sized city.  In a digital age, it is rather a lost art, and the printed photo is something we have to specifically seek out.  Gallery owner Andrew James noted how people seemed to peruse the tables, picking out photographs that interest them, putting some down and picking new ones up until ultimately deciding which to bring home, essentially creating a personal album of taste.

Additionally, Kreher’s decision to present the photographs horizontally on tables rather than vertically on walls is a loaded one.  Since soon after the birth of photography in the mid 19th century, the medium has had to defend itself as ‘high’ art against proponents that insisted it was just a hobby, or even purely scientific.  Alfred Stieglitz, after whose own photographic series of clouds entitled Equivalents the show is named,was the 20th century’s biggest champion. Stieglitz ran a magazine dedicated to presenting photography as fine art as well as pushing for its legitimacy at his New York City gallery where he also showed European avant-garde art. However, photography as fine art is in a relatively safe place in contemporary art (case in point, the St Louis Art Museum’s current exhibition, An Orchestrated Vision: The Theater of Contemporary Photography).

But, Kreher pokes and nudges at that relatively new-found security by not only not presenting her photographs on the gallery wall, but by taking those photographs with her iPhone and using consumer apps such as Hipstamatic and Instagram to process the images, creating something perhaps more difficult to accept as ‘art.’  What does that say about photographers then? Are talented photographers only able to take ‘art’ photographs with an expensive camera? Kreher’s photographic installation responds with a resolute ‘no.’ Equivalents is a confirmation of her own confidence as an artist, and particularly one whose practice is evolving with, rather than bucking up against, new technology, while maintaining the integrity and physicality of her medium.

Equivalents: Jamie Kreher continues at Good Citizen Gallery, located at 2247 Gravois, Saint Louis, MO, through 7 April, 2012. Good Citizen is open Friday and Saturday, 12-5. See http://www.goodcitizenstl.com for more information.

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