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Herman's Photos Play With Memory, Familial Pasts

by Joshua Peters

Herman's Photos Play With Memory, Familial Pasts

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Picture by Amy Herman

August 24, 2016

The American novelist and author of the indispensable Little House on the Prairie series, Laura Ingalls Wilder, once said that home was the “nicest word there is.” Home is not only where the Wi-Fi is, and where the heart resides; home is also an ever-expanding receptacle into which we place our memories generated from years of coming and going. Charlotte by way of Detroit photographer Amy Herman, in her new body of work on display at CPCC's Ross Gallery titled it wasn't important until it was, captures that procedural familiarity of coming home, the sum of years of memories, in the form of photographs that look both forward and backward. Herman's works feature striking moments of visual depth and symbolic contrast—relying on mood, atmosphere and setting to bring home these feelings of familiarity to an audience.

It's the transition from one home to the next that scrambles those feelings of procedural familiarity. Herman, a co-director at Goodyear Arts, captures these feelings of misplaced comfort and the need to hang on to cherished  memories by using projection and the burgeoning infrastructure of her new home currently under construction. On the walls of her unfinished home, Herman projects the smiling faces of friends and family members captured through lenses decades old. These mid-sized, archival inkjet prints feature the deep blacks—and especially the dark shadows typical of inkjet—and slight scrolling distortion created by the action of the printer. Normally, these remnants of the printing process would distract from the content of the artwork, but not so in it wasn't important until it was. The dark corners of Herman's photographs leave room for uncertainty and the ever-so-delicate scrolling texture that sneaks into the highlighted areas contributes to a homesick ethos created by the memories that she projects.

There is this an interesting atmosphere in Herman's work, like the audience might be viewing each image on old tube television, one whose signal may be just slightly interfered with. Squirt stands as the prototype for many of the works featured in it wasn't important until it was. It features a lone spray bottle sitting on the ground flanked on one side by bags of debris, on the other by the projected visage of a smiling woman looking out of frame, and above by a window that looks out onto an overcast world and a shade tree. This piece was particularly provocative because the individual elements of the photograph create a pleasing visual triangle that allows focus to be shared by all of the elements but with the lion's share of attention going to the spray bottle. The artist's statement that accompanies it wasn't important until it was claims to present these feelings with an element of chaos, yet because the elements arrive neatly arranged in near flawless photographic composition, they serve a muted sense of longing and homesickness.

The saturnine filter through which we see Herman's moments makes the show emotionally draining. There's nothing particularly sad here, but the mood of these photographs is a solemn one—the moments that Herman projects onto the frame of her unfinished home suggest a time where things were seemingly better and brighter.

But these inkjet prints aren’t the only work featured in it wasn't important until it was. The most interesting aspect of the show is in Ross Gallery's small rear exhibition space. There, in a timeline along three walls at eye level, is a series of Snapchats from the artist herself—or at least partially from the artist. Snapchat, the app used for sharing photographs and videos with your friends that only last a few seconds, has recently incorporated a face-swapping feature that allows the user to switch faces with a nearby friend.Herman uses this feature to swap faces with old photographs of family members. Each photograph is about the size of the phone screen that the image would normally have lived on for its brief lifetime, and each image is placed one after another in a line around the room. The faces of Herman's family members fit neatly into the Snapchat algorithm, which in turn splices them onto Herman's face and creates these slightly distorted hybrid individuals. Each photograph has its own new character and each is brief glimpse into Herman's genetic history unraveled. This series is both intensely interesting and slightly discomforting. Younger audience members familiar with the Snapchat format might feel the same befuddling, uncomfortable, prying sense of seeing Snaps framed for a gallery space.

It wasn't important until it was wallows in our longing for moments of the past. It's all about missing  familiar things, missing the past in the context of a new present. The whole exhibition buildings into this tense exercise in re-establishing lost familiarity—reaching out and grabbing at golden years, or the feelings that made those years golden. Herman's works are beautiful representations of that effort of making home feel like home—whether that means directly injecting your new home with old memories or realizing that, just like our parents, we have the same opportunity to illuminate those familiar memories anew. 

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Tags: Ross Gallery, CPCC, Amy Herman, photography, Snapchat, memories, Goodyear Arts,

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