Silver Eye attracts photography greats for bi-annual Benefit Auction exhibit | Pittsburgh City Paper

Silver Eye attracts photography greats for bi-annual Benefit Auction exhibit

click to enlarge Two people in business suits chase after papers blowing in the wind.
Photo: Courtesy of Max Pinckers
"A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Jeff Walland Hokusai)" by Max Pinckers
An exciting exhibition is now on view at the Silver Eye Center for Photography. A plethora of impressive work has been assembled for the bi-annual Silver Eye Benefit Auction, which will support the Center's programming.

The auction hasn't been held in person since 2018. Despite the disruption of shifting online in 2020, Silver Eye was able to connect with collectors far and wide. Subsequently, this year it will be a hybrid auction; there will be 70 lots in the live auction and 30 more in a silent auction on the Artsy online marketplace.

The Silver Eye Live Auction Event will take place on Sat., Oct. 22. Online bidding for the silent and live auction lots launched on Oct. 11.

Most of the artwork up for sale has been donated by the artists or their estates. Silver Eye interim executive director Leo Hsu says that, while putting the show together, he and his staff have appreciated the support of their artistic community.

“We’re so excited to welcome our community of supporters and new and seasoned art collectors into our gallery to see the amazing breadth of work on display,” says Hsu in a press release, adding that this year’s hybrid auction "brings together the fun and excitement of a live auction with the reach of online bidding on Artsy.”

The 100 lots on exhibit through Sat., Oct. 22 are described as representing "the most talented, generous, and creative artists working in photography today alongside timeless icons of photography."

Many Pittsburgh photography veterans contributed artwork, including Duane Michals, Sue Abramson, and Mark Perrot. Some of the region's greatest contemporary artists, including Alisha Wormsley and Ed Panar — who both recently received a Guggenheim — donated work as well.

The benefit auction isn't just an opportunity to support contemporary photography; it's an opportunity to ask where it's going. There is a ton of great work on display, and it's not often that you get to see such a variety of photos in conversation with one another.
click to enlarge A woman peers out from behind a thick curtain of tree branches.
Photo: Courtesy of Lydia Panas
"Snow, Purple Lilac" by Lydia Panas
One delightful photo on display, titled "Boys and Basketball," was made by the great Ester Bubley, a documentary photographer who spent many years shooting in Pittsburgh. Dated 1951/1952, the photo captures a tender moment in which three young boys converse with a bemusing air of seriousness.

However, the documentary style that Bubley practiced is no longer the most relevant take on the medium, and it hasn't been for a long time. Practitioners have by and large become more suspicious of photography’s apparent truthfulness and more aware of the stories they are telling.

This shift is reflected in the more contemporary work on display. Much of the art ventures into the absurd, like Ross Mantle’s "Ba Dum Ching, and some entirely reconsider what constitutes a photograph.

In one wildly eclectic piece, titled "MeMeMe," we are treated to a collage of squiggly shapes, hands, and polka dots, all backed by a chain link fence. Unfortunately, this is not the psychedelic spin-off of Joseph’s Technicolor Dreamcoat that we've all been waiting for. The artist, Dan Boardman, produced this effect in-camera by placing masks in front of the negative while shooting.

In this day and age, it seems nearly every artist working in photography has a distinct definition of the medium. However, this exhibition has been curated thoughtfully enough that it feels more like a chorus than an argument.

One photograph, in particular, bridges photography's modern incarnations with its genesis. A still life by Evan Hume, titled "Project Oxcart (Pilot)," shows a scene that, ostensibly, occurred in a darkroom; a black and white print of an astronaut sits in a development tray, though there aren't any chemicals swishing around. It's a brilliant photo; both distinctly modern and nostalgic for that magic moment under the amber lights when an image bubbles up from nothing.
click to enlarge A photograph depicts a person in a spacesuit framed by red neon.
Photo: Courtesy of Evan Hume
"Project Oxcart (Pilot)" by Evan Hume
Silver Eye is a trove for anyone interested in photography. There aren't many spaces like it.

“The mission of Silver Eye is to promote contemporary photography as a fine art, lower the barrier to producing work, and show underrepresented artists,” says Hsu.

What's next for photography is uncertain. Its role seems to have shifted from the zeitgeist. The East wing of Grand Central Terminal was once home to Kodak’s celebrated Colorama — a gigantic display of Kodak moments, which rotated every three weeks from 1950 to 1990. It's now taken up by an Apple store.

But then again, maybe the Colorama and the iPhone aren't all that disconnected. Both Apple and Kodak represent the consumer-tech giants of their day, each of which promised to connect customers with the world via nifty products and, of course, proprietary parts and supplies.

Maybe it's that the zeitgeist — and photography along with it —  have spun into something more complicated. The pace of exchange has quintupled, everything is infinite and, frankly, nothing makes sense. It's bonkers, no doubt. Yet photography is irrevocably tied up in the rubber band ball that we call the internet. After all, you don't get an image culture without images.

Photography matters too on its own terms. It is an art form with its own story, footprint, and rules of engagement — which, like all rules, are made to be broken. It is an art form of multitudes. What is photography exactly? The dust may never settle on that one.

It can be an X-ray, a blankie, a fidget cube, a cold case. It's the whole world, atomized. It’s a sit-down with Father Time, a roll of the dice, and a dance with death. It's an eddy to this profane and brilliant now.
Silver Eye Benefit Auction. Continues through Sat., Oct. 22. Silver Center for Photography. 4808 Penn Ave., Garfield. Free.

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