Flash Forward Festival Boston at the Griffin Museum of Photography

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Gallery view of the series “Revisiting Beauty” in “Aline Smithson: Self & Others” at the Griffin Museum of Photography on May 1, 2016. Photo: Olivia J. Kiers

By Olivia J. Kiers

The greater Boston area celebrates photography this week with the Flash Forward Festival Boston, a spring-like blossoming of free photography events, from gallery openings to special discussions, created by the Magenta Foundation. Sunday, May 1, saw the start of the festival with closing receptions for two exceptional shows at the Griffin Museum of Photography in Winchester, MA: Aline Smithson: Self & Others and Undergraduate Photography Now IV.

Smithson’s work filled the Griffin’s Main Gallery with a colorful sense of nostalgia. A former fashion editor for Vogue Knitting and Vogue Patterns, Smithson imbues her photographic practice with an editorial eye. Each image is not only impeccably crafted, it is visually alluring—one might even say seductive.

Trained as a painter, Smithson counts Rothko, Duchamp and Whistler as sources of inspiration for color, humor and range of sensibility, respectively. Yet, in Self & Others it seems to be the haunting promise of photography itself that is Smithson’s major muse. For example, in a series of sepia-toned silver gelatin prints from 2005 titled People I Don’t Know, Smithson placed antique studio portraits in the hands of people the same age and gender as the figure in the portrait. The resulting images are drastically cropped views of anonymous hands holding equally anonymous faces. In her artist’s statement, Smithson explained that, “I was hoping that psychologically, the viewer would connect the photograph to the person holding it, therefore giving the image new life.”

Gallery view of Aline Smithson, series "Hollywood At Home" at the Griffin Museum of Photography. Photo: Cassandra Klos Gallery view of Aline Smithson, series “Hollywood At Home” at the Griffin Museum of Photography. Photo: Cassandra Klos

Recreating a false past that somehow rings true is a theme throughout the exhibition, perhaps more playfully explored in Hollywood At Home, a series brimming with red-lipsticked confidence and rotary-phone nostalgia. Even the otherworldly exoticism of Smithon’s series Revisiting Beauty has an element of high-fructose fun to it. The incredibly vibrant lime greens, baby blues and pinks are as vivid on the gallery wall as Dorothy’s first steps into the Land of Oz are in the theater—Smithson claims the classic film The Wizard of Oz as inspiration for her color work.

Gallery view of "Undergraduate Photography Now IV" at the Griffin Museum of Photography. Photo: Olivia J. Kiers Gallery view of “Undergraduate Photography Now IV” at the Griffin Museum of Photography. Photo: Olivia J. Kiers

In the Atelier and Griffin galleries, the fourth annual installment of Flash Forward’s undergraduate showcase brought talent from college photography programs across New England together in a tight exhibition that offered plenty of surprising and humorous moments. Curated by Greer Muldowney, photographer and professor at Boston College, Boston University and Lesley College of Art and Design, and Camilo Ramirez, SPE Northeast Regional Vice-Chair, the work in Undergraduate Photography Now IV ranged from the boldly stated, as in Joshua Matthews’ super-saturated Untitled (Papaya with Rubber Bands), to the subtly suggested lyricism of Rachel Martin’s Untitled 1 Truro, MA, a snow scene that sneaks a bit of sparkling ocean in between the peeling white paint of two structures. The undergraduate show made an entertaining counterweight to Smithson’s brand of reverential humor; here, jokes were told from behind the kind of impish smiles a teacher dreads seeing at the back of his classroom. Someone refuses to eat bread crusts (Marissa Iamartino, I don’t like the crust). Someone else has begun a game of hangman on a chalkboard crowned with religious icons and the American flag (Jillian Ryan, Catequista).

When covering a festival with a name like Flash Forward, it is of course impossible to only dwell on exhibitions past, captivating though they were. Looking ahead, this week’s lineup continues to offer ample opportunities to discover the world of photography. Whether you wish to take a wide-angle lens and sample one—or more—event each day this week, or whether you prefer to zoom in on that one exhibition that really intrigues you, it is worth your while to take a look at Flash Forward Festival Boston’s schedule of events before this fast-paced celebration slips away.



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