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   February 2011
Published by Artists of Utah
Page 7    
Kent Miles, photo by Jared Christensen
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Salt Lake Seven . . . continued from page 1

At the head of SL7 is Kent Miles, one of Utah’s better-known photographers, who serves both as the group’s mentor as well as a working member. In his own artistic career Miles has had several mentors: Frank Erickson, a junior high teacher who, according to Miles “was the instructor of a lot of people who have been in the arts around Salt Lake. He taught us about color, about seeing;” and in college Borge Anderson developed Miles’ interest in photography. After graduating from the U in the early 70’s, Miles moved to California to pursue further study in photography at the Art Center in Los Angeles and when he came back did a lot of work with Leslie Kelen, who founded the Center for Documentary Arts in Salt Lake City.

Miles continues to do all of his work in what he calls the “documentary tradition,” and he began his own role as mentor teaching classes at the Salt Lake Art Center. When he decided to leave the center because the classes began to interfere with his own work, one of his students approached him and asked if he would be willing to continue teaching lessons on a scaled-back schedule in a less formal setting. While Miles was initially hesitant, he decided to give it a try, and that was in essence the beginning of the Salt Lake Seven.

The name “Salt Lake Seven” comes from the number of artists who participated in their first exhibit. Now, rather than indicating a fixed membership, it is meant to suggest the idea of several people learning and working together. Miles says that while there is generally a core of members that come to each monthly meeting, other people come and go as their schedules permit. The group is open to anyone who wants to take that “next step,” and Miles encourages anyone interested to contact him through his website, kentmiles.com.

Over a decade since it was formed, the group is still active and Miles continues to be impressed by his fellow group members. Today it is made up of a few professional photographers, but most of the members make their living in other fields while maintaining a continued love and pursuit of photography. The heart of the group is formed by a shared fascination with the photographic image and the ever changing world of photography. The monthly meetings offer the group members an opportunity to take the next step in refining their skill and artistic vision. Miles firmly believes that, “if you want to be good at something, you need to spend time exploring depth, not just surface breadth” and the SL7 provides the means to reach that depth. Since photography is the art “most inseparably connected to technology,” the group also provides a forum to discuss the issues that face photography as an art form at large.

A big part of the meetings consists of serious critiques; the members all trust one another so they feel like they can take risks in their work without the fear of being “marked down.” Each month they discuss concepts and ideas and they leave each meeting with an “assignment” to work on for the next month. Miles says that he is extremely impressed with the work that has come out of the group; there’s not only high quality work being produced, but a great diversity of style. Like any other member Miles also produces work. He says, “as they respond to challenges, it inspires me to try new things.” Miles is very proud of the group, not because of any particular style or subject matter he sees, but because all seem to be getting visibly better.

Threshold, the exhibit on display at Art Access Gallery through February 11, contains the work of ten of the group’s members, and many of the ideas that I discussed with Miles are apparent in the show. On a purely technical level, Threshold displays some of the most beautifully printed images I have ever seen. When I talked to Miles at the show’s opening he said that print quality is one aspect of a photographer’s work that is most helped by group critiques. Most of the prints are pigment ink prints, but there are some traditional silver prints. The majority of the pieces are displayed in simple black frames mounted on white matte board, a simple presentation that helps the packaging disappear so that viewers have direct access to the stunning imagery.

One of the things Miles encourages in SL7 is “a genuine expression of individual vision,” and Threshold is a prime example of individuality. Alan Jackson’s serene images of large scale sprinkler systems present a beautiful look at the American agricultural landscape.|1| Bill Patterson’s work investigates the human body, which to him is “the highest standard of beauty in the universe,” |2| while Rocio Briceńo brings an intimacy and connectedness to the human form that does something quite different than Patterson’s imagery.|3| Miles’ own work reflects his idea that “vision, not subject matter, is the critical element of great photographers;” he has managed to turn such simple things as stools and ice freezers into powerfully captivating images.|4| Bret Howell’s series of fence posts expertly showcases the intrigue that can be generated by the subtle differences in repeated forms,|5| and Carl Oelerich’s images have an engrossing combination of intimacy and separation reminiscent of Robert Frank.|6| One image that made a strong impact was Steve Proctor’s high contrast photograph of the Grand Canyon, with the waters of the Colorado, black as night winding through the beautifully captured canyon walls.|7| Justin Hackworth’s photos of “the overlooked,” as he calls it, brought a sense of calmness and comfort to the show.|8| Greg Sumner effectively represents the vastness and spirituality of the American West.|9| The images that stood out the most were those made by Brian Buroker.|10| His images are representative of an expert eye and ability to turn everyday sights into captivating images by isolating them in the frame. They are beautiful examples of the investigation of light and how it plays across surfaces.

Threshold is the most impressive and engrossing show I have seen for quite some time. If there is something to be said about the show as a whole, it is that the images all have an inescapable feeling of the West. The works ask for and reward long and repeated observation, revealing new hidden beauty with each glance. The show is representative of hard work and dedicated refinement. It is easy to see why the Salt Lake Seven has survived for as long as it has. The benefits of working with a group of trusted friends manifest themselves in the sheer quality of work on display.

Exhibition Review: Salt Lake
A Traditional Nod
Sundance's New Frontier at the Salt Lake Art Center

Film has always been an exploration of technology, so it made sense when Sundance began a contemporary art exhibit as part of their annual festival four years ago that they would focus on technology-driven works. This year’s iteration of New Frontier, which was on display this past week in Park City, centers around the “liberated pixel” to join art and film. Featuring interactive, user-generated projects, this year’s display relies heavily on technology. While new media seems to reign over the installations, the few nods to “traditional” arts stand out, using more simplistic means to exemplify merging media. Many of these works were not part of the New Frontier: Take 1 mirror exhibit at the Salt Lake Art Center during the festival, but they are being installed this week for Take 2, which will include all the New Frontier works and continues through March 25.

Lance Weiler’s "Pandemic 1.0" is a hectic game centered at Mission Control.|1| Visitors come in to see a series of screens and data, all gathering at a central computer station, pulling information from twitter feeds, smart phones, and the project’s website: hopeismissing.com. The pandemic at Sundance was a sleep virus affecting the adult population of Park City, but the game really represents the spread of information and depending on how people participate, the pandemic spreads further or becomes more contained.

The installation also includes a memorial room where those affected by the pandemic have their stories told. A dark room accessible only by flashlight contains photographs of victims and artifacts from their life. Placing such a personal and secluded element next to the technology of the game allows visitors to connect more directly with the fallout. The memorial room reminds visitors that a person is connected to each piece of data. The informational charts and graphs would not exist without them.

Moving away from computers, a painted stage added an almost peculiar theater surrounding to one of the small black rooms in Miner’s Hospital. The elegant set of "Theater III + Edgar" |2| includes a small central screen, which plays a seven-minute animation with a fitting musical score. Visitors can get lost exploring the painting and may have to stay for another seven-minute run to see the portions of the animated short they missed. Khebrehzadeh’s mixed media installation is a surprising take on a darkened theater and is reminiscent of a theater show from the past.

One fact of a society with ever-new technologies is that materials quickly outlive their use, function, or space and move from our homes to the trash. Artist Daniel Canogar rescues materials, showcasing their abilities through re-purposing and new perspectives. His New Frontier installation consists of two pieces, "Hippocampus 2" and "Spin," which give new life to wires and DVDs through the use of light. A deceptively simple concept, the mess of wires in "Hippocampus 2" transforms to activated conductors as light shines through the tangles.|3| When dark, the wires seem like a heavy and purposeless trio, arranged in three clumps side by side. The addition of light effortlessly finds the wires and fills the space to reveal weightless electric lines. In a venue full of transmedia projects and technology heavy installations, the breathing wires offer one of the most beautiful New Frontier exhibits. "Spin" owes its success to its confusion-inducing back and forth. At first glance, visitors can’t tell if the individual movie projections are bouncing off the discs or generated by another source. A massive wall of DVD’s, each is actually displaying a small version of the movie it once was bought to screen. The reflection from the discs shows on the opposite wall in a kaleidoscope effect. Short audio clips accompany the visuals, helping visitors to get lost in the projection stream.

New Frontier offers more than the chance to look. Visitors can play and explore as interactive parts of the exhibits, fighting a pandemic, sitting in a painted theater, and deciphering which recordings belong to mismatched DVD’s. Expanding the venue from Park City to Salt Lake City shows the value of this exhibition and is a great benefit for Utah’s art scene. The installations came from artists and galleries from around the world, people travel from all over to attend the Sundance Film Festival, and now Utah is the only place to exhibit the international one time display.

New Frontier exhibit at Salt Lake Art Center, photo by Will Thompson
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