Bemis Center For Contemporary Arts

Making it Big, Contemporary Large-Format Photography

Gallery 2:
Big denotes size; big connotes grandeur. Big signifies all that is vast and momentous. And in the case of the new must-see exhibition at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, big means creating art on a grand and revolutionary scale. "Making It Big: Contemporary Large-Format Photography," on view from June 10 – August 13, 2005, showcases six compelling images and demonstrates just what an impressive impact “making it big” can have on photography. An Opening Reception takes place on Friday, June 10th, from 7:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. to launch "Making It Big," and a Gallery Talk on Saturday, June 11th, at 12:00 noon will address the technical and aesthetic aspects of producing large-format photographic images. Both events are free, and the public is warmly invited to attend.

While "Making It Big" features only six photographs, they are of such size and scale that they immediately emerge as complex works replete with multiple themes and intriguing technical innovations. These photographs are more than just physically big: they are fraught with complicated subject matter that smaller, more conventionally-sized photography is incapable of capturing. Drawn from the personal collections of Omaha Steaks Vice-President Todd Simon and renowned art collector Phillip Shrager, the works vary in theme and artistic approach. Says Simon: “When most people think of photograph size, it’s typically in the snap-shot range. Even fine art photographic prints tend to be somewhat limited in terms of how large they can be produced. But the sheer size of these large-scale photographs has a greater, more provocative impact that I find really captivating.” In this respect, the works showcased in "Making It Big" tend to elicit stronger emotional responses than do smaller photographs. The size startles viewers into greater awareness of the subject matter, challenging them to peer deeper into the image and to consider both the photographer and the photograph on a deeper level. Large-format photography thus transforms the traditional viewing experience, enhancing it by triggering peripheral vision and the greater inspection of details.

In "A Colorful Dish is a Balanced Dish," artist Colette Fu creates a surreal, whimsical atmosphere that at first glance appears to be a fun-filled carnival, complete with clowns, tight-rope walkers and Ferris wheels. Closer inspection, however, reveals a much more sinister world in which women are literally running in circles as they combat the competing messages promoted by contemporary society to consume unhealthy food yet remain impossibly thin. Illuminated by three light boxes, this work illuminates our obsessions with food and weight. In a painstaking approach, Fu photographed each of the subjects separately, uniting them into a single, coherent narrative. Yet A Colorful Dish contains so many exquisite details that one can stand hours in front of this photographic collage and continue to discover new aspects, whether it’s a Sumo wrestler in one frame, or the Pillsbury Doughboy in another. Selected as an En Foco New Works 2003 Award recipient, Fu received her MFA in Photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology. Her most recent body of work, appropriately entitled "Photo Binge," focuses on women and their relationships with food, beauty and health, and the artist states: “I am interested in understanding the social dynamics that lie within the beauty and health industries...Backlit digital imaging has allowed me to transform these flat psychological states while emphasizing spectatorship, advertising, seduction and the categorical blurring that exists within the stabilizing logic of categories.” And presented so large, Fu’s image context continually shifts, prompting viewers to question their own relation to the subject matter held up for such close scrutiny.

In contrast, the image "TWA 800" is stark, somber and sobering. Captured and created by Swiss artist Christoph Draeger, this color photograph is composed of 8,000 individual puzzle pieces, all specifically die-cut for the image. This large-scale presentation lays bare the July 1996 disaster when a TWA jet exploded shortly after take-off from JFK Airport over the Atlantic Ocean just south of Long Island. All 230 people on board were killed, and controversy still rages over the cause of the crash. Draeger has long focused on disaster as one of his primary subjects, and throughout the 1990's he visited various sites of plane crashes in an effort to document violent tragedies. By splicing the image of the shattered plane back together through thousands of puzzle pieces, Draeger underscores the shattering impact this event had not just on the plane but on all the lives involved – from the passengers themselves to their families and loved ones. He also juxtaposes the bland, unthreatening nature of jigsaw puzzles, which often depict idyllic, bland landscapes, with the horrific disaster of a plane crash. Additionally, a dual fragmentation emerges in this work—the image features the gruesome task after the crash of officials to reconstruct the plane, while Draeger himself is reconstructing this reconstruction effort. Neither the plane nor the image is whole, a fact further underscored by this vast photographic puzzle.

Whether it is satirical commentary regarding a weight-obsessed society or the unexpected tragedies that loom large over contemporary life, "Making It Big: Contemporary Large-Format Photography" stretches perceptions and challenges assumptions about what photography as an evolving artistic medium can accomplish. By “making it big,” contemporary photographers are creating a metaphorical large-scale, wide-open lens through which viewers can encounter some of the most compelling images being created and captured today. So make it to the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts and experience "Making It Big" up close and in every detail that these exceptional photographs hold up for view.

Opening Reception: Friday, June 10, 7:00 – 10:00 p.m.

Gallery Talk: Saturday, June 11 @ 12:00 noon, Bemis Center Board President, Todd Simon, will speak on his philosophy of collecting art.

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Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts
724 South 12th Street
Omaha, NE 68102
Admission and Parking: FREE
Phone:: 402.341.7130