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Freshly Squeezed

Hunter Braithwaite

Ivan Santiago, Kendall, 2014, C-print, 12"x12".

Dina Mitrani Gallery
June 12- August 9, 2014

On the back wall of Freshly Squeezed, a trio of pictures of buildings taken by Ivan Santiago are quite similar. Each features the same light: that engorged crepuscular glow that so luridly floods our evenings down here. Each features the same architecture: that drab coral bunker look that speaks of suburban dentistry and hurricane season. And each features the same composition: building slightly cropped, photographed from across a stretch of parking lot, as if the photographer merely pulled over and stepped from his idling car. But there is one difference. The first two include signs (Adult Video Connection XXX and Erotic Boutique of Kendall) that explicitly advertise the salacious qualities of the businesses, but the third does not; there’s just a lone car in the parking lot. Even so, it feels just as sleazy. We wonder, is there something in the architecture itself, in the quality of light, that causes this, or does the feeling just leak in from the other works?

Curators Jesus Petroccini and Julian Pardo organized the exhibition around a similar idea. If you place work from similar artists next to each other, what spills out of the frame? All of the 20 photographers on display (some, like Samantha Salzinger, are established, but most are students or emerging) have some connection to South Florida. They grew up here, they studied here, or they shot their photos here.

Several trends emerge as one moves through the salon-style hang of 32 photos, some expected, and some not. These young photographers are looking towards the environment, but not the coast, which is in danger of being submerged in photo-documentation. They instead chart inland terrain: Jorge Sanchez’ anonymous Opa-locka warehouses, the tropigoth mist of the Everglades shared by Barbara Lamothe and Luis Guisasola, the suburban deviance of Ivan Santiago or Lissette Schaeffler’s great photograph of a dilapidated love motel.

It isn’t just the landscape that is stripped of artifice. Sometimes the models, approached without a hint of irony, reveal more than expected. Take Sofia Valiente’s Paul 103. An old man looks out of the frame, perhaps because he sees something else, but maybe because he just doesn’t want to meet the camera’s gaze. He wears a white undershirt, some comfy shorts. Pulled up too high are his white socks, one of which does an insufficient job concealing the telltale bulge of a GPS tracking device. The kind that sex offenders must wear while on parole. The photograph comes from Miracle Village, a community of sex offenders in Palm Beach County. Valiente, a recent graduate of FIU, spent time getting to know the residents and gaining their trust. There are several points in the exhibition, like the man’s hidden transmitter, that show a new generation of photographers refusing to look away.

Michelle (Barbara Lamothe)

Barbara Lamothe, Untitled (Michelle), 2013. C-print, 8″x8″

All of this aside, it’s hard to take bad photographs under South Florida’s luminous sky. Ask Instagram. Whether the even Stephen Shore feel of Jorge Sanchez or the inspired shadows dancing across the gauged ear of a sleeping teenager in Andres Ramirez’s Ocala FL (2014), it is the light itself that is freshly squeezed, never from concentrate. But there is light, and then there is lighting. Not only do these photographers know South Florida, they know how to photograph South Florida. Their comfort behind a lens is a product of education (many came up under FIU’s great Peggy Nolan), but is also a product of growing up in an area that is constantly being photographed—by tourists, by the Burn Notice crew. So when they happen upon their own little sliver of photographic territory, when they drain the image swamp, as it were, one can’t help but want to see more.