On display at Silver Eye Center for Photography, “Close to Home” brings us notions of just what that phrase means, beginning with the work of three Pittsburgh-based photographers, and then offering four more interpretations by photographers and a filmmaker.
Jake Reinhart of Greenfield selected several images from a larger body of work titled “Homespun” that are a combination of candid shots, landscapes, still life and posed portraits that express the complex feelings he has about Pittsburgh.
“I’m sorting through the emotional or mental space that a person occupies when thinking about their home,” he says. “I was born and raised in and around Pittsburgh. My family has lived in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties for multiple generations.”
Images like “Julie on Porch Stairs,” which is a candid photograph of Reinhart’s wife sitting on the back stairs of their house is undoubtedly the most “close to home” image for the photographer. But others, such as “View From Polish Hill,” will likely resonate with many Pittsburghers.
“This is a landscape that I’ve shot multiple times,” Reinhart says of the latter. “There is a vantage point along Melwood Avenue (in Oakland) that allows you to look down into the valley near the busway.”
This particular shot was made in March while Reinhart was walking to Pittsburgh Filmmakers. “The winter was so harsh and gray that it made me really grateful to have this early evening light,” Reinhart says.
Considering the architecture of the house, the pitted dead-end road and the wild, overgrown nest of kudzu vines sweeping up the hillside, undoubtedly, most Pittsburghers would agree it’s a good example of a regional photograph.
Children define home for many — whether it be your children or your childhood.
Justin Visnesky of Brighton Heights shows several photos from his “In Between Days” series that document the quiet moments that happen in between the chaos of parenting.
“Two moments, specifically, happened around one of our son Eliot’s favorite holidays: Halloween,” Visnesky says. “He was super into all things spooky and scary at the time. … This, coincidentally, happened to be the last Halloween before our daughter June was born. After she became part of the family, Eliot’s penchant for scary things really took a dive. … Halloween went from being a super exciting time for him (and us) to a time of anxiety and uncertainty.
“These two images — ‘Eliot, Zombie’ and ‘Vampire Teeth’ — have become a representation of that time of anxiety-free childhood fun. A time before our proverbial teeth fell out and everything became more complicated.”
Elizabeth Rudnick of Highland Park shows photographs from her “Family History (Cake)” series, the source images of which were taken from a Tupperware container in her parents’ basement.
“It holds their every album, from before my birth through my high-school graduation,” Rudnick says. “If their house were burning down, I know that one of them would run to the basement, risking life and limb, to rescue this dusty box.”
Realizing that throughout her childhood, Rudnick’s parents took dozens upon dozens of photos of birthday-party pictures of family members posing with cake, she decided to select a few favorites and paint over everyone and everything surrounding each cake.
“The cakes were always central, always the compositional anchor around which the other subjects clamored,” she says. “I began to remove the people from the images.”
Rudnick says this act of erasure was a censorship of the personal and the destruction of a limited resource. “‘Family History (Cake)’ is about the anxiety that your most precious moments might not mean anything … might turn out to be frosting,” Rudnick says. “In the scope of human experience, they probably will. Yet, we agonizingly save and curate and share them in the hopes that they resonate, or, at the very least, remind some future viewer that we were here.”
Rudnick says she intended for her altered photos to be funny. “After all,” she says, “ghosts eating cake aren’t concerned with existential questions.”
The remaining works on display are a bit more sobering.
Andrew Hammerand of Boston displays several haunting images captured by a public-accessible CCTV camera in a small, nondescript Midwestern town. Brooklyn-based Martha Fleming-Ives showcases her series “Red Parts Whole,” which documents the last six years of her sister’s struggle with a bipolar disorder. And also chronicling mental illness, Lisa Lindvay of Chicago presents another time-based series, “Seven Years in the Making,” which depicts the effects of her mother’s mental health on her father, two brothers and sister, and their home over the past seven years.
A 20-minute video featuring various clips and news footage taken in and around Chicago, “The Inner and Outer Vanishing Point” by Chicago-based filmmaker Cameron Gibson, completes the exhibit.
The artists offer multiple opportunities for contemplation as to just what it means when we say “Close to Home.”
Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.