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Miami Centerfold: Keith Mosier at PHD Gallery

[uds-billboard name=”miamicenterfold”]Keith Mosier’s photographs of hotels in South Beach, Miami currently exhibited at PHD Gallery look lonely, in the glamorous kind of way.  There they stand, in all of their former, Art Deco glory, confidently posing for the camera with a stark beauty that Mosier has carefully drawn out of these historically preserved structures. Often framed by cloudless skies or stray branches of palm trees and shot from low angles, the hotels are positioned ominously as power houses of money and style without any indication of time passed.  There is a noticeable absence of figures,  and we are never allowed to see the interiors, which incessantly focuses our attention to the  structure of the buildings – their marquees, geometric similarities and differences, and architectural details – of Miami’s Art Deco District.

Mosier’s process of developing black and white silver gelatin prints with few manipulations in the darkroom, is a deliberate choice on the artist’s part.  Mosier asserts a certain aesthetic directly linked to process in his artist statement: “I believe that what I see in my camera’s viewfinder should be the photo I want to take.” Mosier’s use of a manual 35mm camera, film photography, and black and white prints are actions of the dying practice of film photography. However, his insistence upon a process centered on integrity to the medium ends up being a great metaphor for his subject – the hotels. Both film photography and Miami’s Art Deco hotels are stylistically and technologically considered outdated and not really relevant in times economic woes and fast-paced life, yet are significant mainstays in terms of artistic adherence to process.  And, that’s a huge part of the draw of these photographs: they absolutely bring you into a time and a place where you encounter a building, awestruck, without any filter of time, place, or technology.

Photographs of buildings in a dazzling city have strong roots in art history.  Alfred Stieglitz’s Looking Northwest from the Shelton (1932) is also of a hotel in a large city (New York), a gelatin silver print, and is one in a series. It particularly resonates with Mosier’s The Royal Palm and The Ritz Plaza, focusing on strong verticals, strength, and an uncertain, eerie sky.  Stieglitz, a photographer, gallery owner, and publisher, had the ultimate goal of elevating the status of photography as a fine art by pairing it with European Modernism, writing articles and publishing magazines about photography at a time when it was considered an amateur, and even scientific, endeavor rather than a pursuit of art. Mosier’s work in Miami Centerfold similarly desires a worthy prestige for (film) art photography through his use of more traditional methods at a time when everyone seems to be a photographer.  It’s striking that both Stieglitz and Mosier, being advocates of their preferred medium in their own times, were drawn to architecture, itself three dimensional, large, and practical when their own is 2 dimensional, usually small-scale, and an object to handle and display.

In both photographers’ images of large, impressive buildings, there is an expression of loneliness, awe, and a general sense of being overpowered by the physical bulk of a city, the stuff that affects our experience, our movement, and our impression of a place.  Mosier’s first solo gallery show is about hotels, in the literal sense, but is also about photography, and is distinctive in how he synthesizes these two factors to create images that exude glories of the past and their strangeness in the present.


Images courtesy of PHD Gallery.
Miami Centerfold: Keith Mosier continues at PHD Gallery, located at 2300 Cherokee St in St. Louis, MO through August 11, 2012.  The gallery is open 12-4, Thursday – Sunday. See for more information.

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