For Christopher Meerdo, presenting his 3-minute video “Untitled (redactions)” in Silver Eye Center for Photography’s “Fellowship 15” exhibit is an opportunity to join in “national conversations about the over-militarization of our local police.”
“To me, this new militarization has put our systems of institutionalized racism into sharp focus,” says the Chicago-based artist, 33, who teaches photography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Meerdo’s video, as well as four other photo-based projects, garnered him the Silver Eye Center for Photography’s $3,000 International Fellowship award.
“Untitled (redactions)” is a video project that Meerdo completed after an intensive yearlong process with his studio assistants gathering night-time protest videos from YouTube.
“I was seeking out these moments where an individual with a camera interrupts the video with the light of the flash from the camera, overexposing the video sequence,” he says. “We extracted hundreds of these instances from protest videos that represent that last 10 years of international civil unrest.”
The project features an onslaught of overexposed, white-washed freeze-frames.
“This national and international conversation about state violence is happening through our now-ubiquitous media technologies, accessible to increasing numbers of smartphone users, and now we are seeing police departments being equipped with this ubiquitous vision,” Meerdo says. “Whether or not it will force police departments to act with more accountability or if this state-controlled bodily panoptic vision will only simply serve the national interests of upholding white hegemony is yet to be seen.”
Meerdo’s other projects are equally compelling.
“Cataphote,” an unusual series of landscape photographs, started when Meerdo was living in Iceland and started working with retro-reflective fabric as a sculptural medium. It was inspired by the experience of seeing a dead whale washed ashore while traveling there.
“I have been working with this material for a long time, but not at this scale,” Meerdo says. “I knew I wanted to make something that would approximate the size of the whale and the experience of being around something like that.”
In each image, the fabric sculpture serves as a focal point, a point of orientation.
“I was working with this material and thinking a lot about scale because there are no trees in Iceland,” Meerdo says. “It is weird because when you look out onto the landscape, there is nothing to fix you or orient you with how big things really are.”
To create the images, Meerdo teamed up with an artist named May Wilson.
“She already worked within these forms, so we were able to get together and work on it and make something that is both present and absent and also think about how this material functions in a post-photographic space and possibly emulating something that is 3D-modeled or Photoshopped,” Meerdo says.
Meerdo’s “Anthology” project is quite different. Using an image data-recovery program, Meerdo pulled data from used memory cards purchased from eBay, which he then partially restored and saved.
The disjointed appearance of the photographs are a result of the incompleteness in data, which produces fragmentation and hue shifts. Each individual image appears exactly as it was recovered through the restoration process.
“I have always been interested in the notion of inherent truth in photography,” he says. “Photography, in its most basic relationship with the world, is a subtractive process and not a 1:1 correlation. It fragments space, freezes time and turns three dimensions into two. The dissolution of the binary substructure of photographic images is simply another quality that we can add to this list.”
The work of Matthew Conboy fills the rest of the gallery. Conboy, who teaches photography part-time at Robert Morris University and Point Park University, is the recipient of the $1,000 Keystone Award for a Pennsylvania photographer.
The works are from a project titled “Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear.” It is based on Skatopia, a skate park in Ohio, and Brewce Martin, its founder and a former professional skater whom Conboy met by “pure happenstance” when Foo Conner, former event organizer for Skatopia, invited Conboy to join him in photographing a “riot at a skate park in Ohio.”
“Before this, I never would have expected to find myself at the gates of what appeared to be a post-apocalyptic, utopian, anarchist, punk and bluegrass commune populated by a cast of characters reminiscent of the Lost Boys from Neverland,” Conboy says. “Oh, and did I forget to mention there’s an 88-acre skate park that attracts professional and amateur skaters from around the world?”
Although much of Conboy’s previous work is grounded in abstract and conceptual art, he was immediately drawn to two elements at Skatopia: the cultural landscape of southeast Ohio and the narrative threads that began to emerge connecting the people to the landscape.
“I began to see connections between the rolling landscape of Appalachia and the wooden and concrete forms of the pools, ramps and pipes at the skate park,” he says. “The subjects within my photographs also displayed a timeless quality that can’t easily be defined.”
For example, “Elijah” was one of the first photographs he took in June as, says Conboy, “I was getting my bearings.”
“He was busy talking with a band, and I couldn’t help but be drawn to him with his torn jean jacket, ripped T-shirt and Creature hat.”
“Bonfire (II)” hints further at the spectacle of it all. “As day gives way to night, bonfires begin appearing and images like this help to give a sense of scale to the bonfires and the rolling landscape,” Conboy says.
Add to that, “Michael,” whose subject has a reflection in both eyes, providing a nice bookend to the bonfire images Conboy displays, but without the ominous atmosphere.
“The combination of the ‘Smile’ tattoo on his arm and his longing gaze sums up the youthfulness and potential of Skatopia,” Conboy says.
“For me, ‘Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear’ speaks as much to the last view I had of Skatopia as I was driving though the main gate and looked into my side mirror as it does with my own past of hanging out with skateboarders and punks in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Canada,” Conboy says.
Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at [email protected].