THE POWER OF PORTRAITURE: Polly Gaillard's "Sick Day."
Call it a case of “be careful what you wish for.” Last August, Zora Carrier began volunteering at the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts in downtown Tampa. She thought it would be a good way to get to know the city as a recent transplant from Grand Rapids, Mich., where she founded and ran a nonprofit art exhibition space called Open Concept Gallery for eight years.
Then in May, FMoPA director Jane Simon stepped down to pursue a fundraising job at a hunger-relief charity. Now Carrier, who moved to Tampa because of her husband’s job, finds herself interim director of the photography museum.
Undaunted by the suddenness of the opportunity, Carrier seems ready to lead FMoPA — if only until a permanent director is hired — as the 13-year-old organization continues to expand its programs and ambitions. (Carrier hopes to be in the running for the permanent position, too; FMoPA’s board of trustees has begun a search.) In the coming months, she will oversee the realization of previously planned exhibitions: solo shows of Ruth Bernhard, a mid-20th century photographer of female nudes who spent time in Tampa; Ezra Stoller, a renowned architectural photographer; and Gordon Parks, a celebrated documentarian of African-American life and the Civil Rights era.
Building on the exhibitions, the museum plans to offer a spectrum of educational programs and classes related to architectural photography, social justice issues and the technology behind digital photography.
“We see education as a big opportunity,” Carrier says. “Everybody is photographing on their cell phone and experimenting on their computer. A lot of people have this passion.”
Carrier’s track record at Open Concept is reassuring, even intriguing. At the Grand Rapids space, she organized exhibitions of local Michigan artists as well as internationally known sculptor Dennis Oppenheim and artists from Eastern Europe. (Carrier was born in the Czech Republic and has also organized exhibitions in Prague and Washington, D.C.) Another project entailed the high-profile display in downtown Grand Rapids of a public sculpture by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone, which spelled out “Big Mind Sky” in rainbow letters. Carrier describes her approach as ardently community-based.
By coincidence, the title of the museum’s current temporary exhibition is New Visions
. The visions are those of two photographers, California-based Polly Gaillard and Texas-based Allison Hunter. Nothing in particular unites the two bodies of work, other than their relative newness as projects produced within the past decade.
Hunter photographs animals in zoos — sheep, deer, a giraffe — and uses Photoshop to transplant them into pale pink or black color-field backgrounds, which read to the eye as ethereal or otherworldly places. Her conceptual gambit sounds good: By staging a one-on-one encounter with the animals, she invites viewers to consider how humans relate to their creature brethren. It’s an open-ended question, but one that inspires a bit of soul-searching about how animals are kept, treated or even thought of in human culture.
That said, once you’ve seen one of Hunter’s animal-color-field composites, you’ve basically seen them all. As a group of half a dozen at FMoPA, they come off as gimmicky.
Richer and more engrossing are Gaillard’s Pressure Points, a series of photographs of her daughter, made after the artist’s divorce from her husband. The images capture with quirky elegance and in vivid color the mix of absurd comedy and aching poignancy that characterizes parenthood; in them, Gaillard’s daughter (who looks to be about 7) appears alternately as a whimsical naïf and a wiser-than-her-years accomplice.
In one close-up shot, the girl reveals a fake wound made of two corn kernels adhered to her arm under a Band-Aid, which she peels away. Another finds a snack of crackers and juice poised atop the household toilet, as if awaiting the end of bath time. To these signs of childhood innocence, Gaillard adds glimpses of unnerving maturity: a portrait of her daughter’s world-weary gaze on a sick day, and a waist-down shot of the girl wearing a purple stuffed animal wrapped around her hips like a loincloth.
Despite the somber context of divorce — which is felt mostly in the absence of any other presence (i.e., that of a father) within the mother-daughter, photographer-subject circuit — the images are rarely heavy-handed. The exception is a nude portrait in which a line drawn down the middle of the child’s body divides her into “mommy” and “daddy” halves.
If just for an afternoon, Gaillard’s pictures refresh your wonder at what pointing a camera can accomplish.
Runs through Aug. 31 at the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts, 400 N. Ashley Drive, Cube 200, Tampa, 813-221-2222, fmopa.org.