Michael Mandel (American, b. 1950). Emptying the Fridge. 1984. Silver dye bleach print, 15 7/8 × 19 7/8″ (40.6 × 50.7 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Family of Man Fund

This is the fifth in a series of exhibitions introducing contemporary, original work in photography. It presents three photographers, Vincent Borrelli, Thomas Florschuetz, and Mike Mandel, who are using color at this time, each with a different expressive intent. This selection highlights the broad possibilities that current color technology offers photographers, and reveals the wit and strength of some fresh points of view.

Not long ago, Vincent Borrelli (American, born 1960) left his position as a financial analyst in Massachusetts. Since last year, he has recorded the architectural and domestic environments of folk artists throughout the rural United States. Several of these photographs were taken at Bible theme parks and in homes transformed into private shrines. Borrelli compresses symbols of the American past, such as a tepee and a covered wagon, in densely detailed images that reflect the collector’s instinct often present in folk art. He enhances the magical dimension of these photographs by using strobe lights to heighten color and flatten space. In his work there are echoes of Walker Evans, who made the vernacular interior a rich subject for American photography in the 1930s. But Borrelli rejects the stylistic reserve of Evans’s work, and closes in on his subject, not only to produce a compelling picture, but to uncover the spiritual inspiration behind these folk art environments.

Mike Mandel (American, born 1950), from California, uses photography to investigate its most banal application: the deadpan commercial document. He recently completed a ten-year project of time-and-motion photographs inspired by Frank Gilbreth, an American engineer and efficiency expert who, beginning in the 1910s, photographed workers while they performed tasks, in order to examine how their productivity might be increased. In Mandel’s study, published in his book Making Good Time (1989), he has recorded contemporary genre scenes with protagonists wearing colored lights on their bodies that blink at intervals and, in the pictures, track time and movement together. Although the technological purpose of the process is to analyze action in descrete [sic] moments, the lights, extending like brilliant graffiti over each task depicted, seem to defy their role as measuring codes. Any nod to scientific rigor in this work is undone by chaotic color and pattern; the matter-of-factness of the activities provides ironic counterpoint to their whimsical portrayal. Such scenes as watching television or having a talk—specifically sedentary activities—suggest that Mandel, while fascinated by Gilbreth’s obsessive documentation, denies that science can catalog and thereby illuminate all human behavior.

Thomas Florschuetz (German, born 1960) recently emigrated from East Germany, and now lives in West Berlin. He made his first photographic self-portraits in 1982, and only last year began incorporating color into his work. In his earlier multipaneled [sic] black-and-white pieces, photographs of body parts are arranged in jarring relationships evocative of Neo-Expressionist art. Florschuetz continues to use himself as the model in the new works, but here his presence is reduced to fragments of his hand and face, which are integrated into oversized organic anatomies that challenge the limitations of the term “portraiture.” These photographs are aggressive in their monumentality and frightening in their specificity: once the greatly magnified hair and pores are identified, the viewer is cast by implication into a lilliputian [sic] realm. Florschuetz deliberately selects artificial hues for the backgrounds of his images, shifting the delicate color scale of the skin tones in each photograph. By photographically altering the size and color of his own body, Florschuetz creates forms that range from chaotic to classical.

Lisa Kurzner, Newhall Fellow, Department of Photography

This exhibition is supported by a generous grant from Spring Industries, Inc., and is part of the Springs of Achievement Series on the Art of Photography at The Museum of Modern Art.

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