Matthew Leifheit, Rolex. All images courtesy Shulamit Nazarian.

Yale Art Grads Photo Exhibit Captures the Complexities of a Country

Ten photographers challenge Trump's portrait of America.

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Jul 13 2017, 2:31pm

Matthew Leifheit, Rolex. All images courtesy Shulamit Nazarian.

Each year, the Yale School of Art graduates 10 photographers from its prestigious masters of fine art program. The works of the 2017 class of image makers produced a thesis exhibition at the Shulamit Nazarian gallery in Los Angeles. The group show, Doublespeak: Yale MFA Photography 2017 features photography that explores the individual concerns of the future photographic voices who will work to expand their practices and challenge the medium.

Chau Tran, Untitled 3

"The photography department at Yale University is revered as one of the most rigorous programs in the country," explains Seth Curio, a senior director at Shulamit Nazarian and curator of the show. "Over the years I've had the pleasure to know and work with so many amazing artists that began their careers as graduates of the program; artists such as Katy Grannan, Daniel Gordon, and Genevieve Gaignard." He says, "partnering with Yale to host their 2017 MFA graduates in photography gives these young artists the opportunity to share their perspectives to a new audience and to be in dialogue with the wider art community in Los Angeles."

Matt Leifheit, Swimmer

Doublespeak features 50 works by emerging photographers that present portraiture, documentary, landscape and conceptual works that construct new realities and possibilities of being out of fact and fiction. There are the politically minded images of Farah Al Qasimi that explore the relationship between the United States military and the Middle East; Brek Andersen's landscapes of bodies and nature consider the aesthetics of purity; Harry Griffin's digitally manipulated pictures create simulated renderings of home and interiority; Anna Shimshak and Matt Leifheit photos explore the erotic, pleasure and ritual; Walker Olesen's pictures are metaphors for his move from Los Angeles to New Haven to attend Yale.

"As with any graduating class, the themes and concepts are varied and distinct," explains Curio. "These students were all in the program during a two-year span of unprecedented American politics and media coverage. As a result, each of the projects address the weight of our current political moment, even without intentionally doing so, and as a group, the work provides a very intimate perspective on our current political and social landscape." Curio believes the country is in a unique time where the notion of truth and reality is easily malleable, and constantly in question. The former Yale MFA students "have created bodies of work that address the uncertain world in which they live, utilizing the medium of photography to challenge and explore the complexity of their experiences."

Res, The Woman Who Built Trump Tower

The most overtly political series of photographs in the exhibition are by Res, organized under the title, "Towers of Thanks." The pictures depict the women behind the building of President Trump's towers. In one image a woman, wearing a fuchsia jacket holds a sign that says, "I Am The Woman Who Built Trump Tower." Another image shows an Instagram photograph of someone flipping off the Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan, recalling Ai Weiwei's Study of Prospective photo series where the artist raises his middle finger to the world's most famous monuments.

With an increased focus on the white working class during the 2016 election presidential elections, Danna Singer's images also take on a more political tone. Singer documents the lives of her family and friends in a small town in New Jersey. Images like, Mom, Avery and Wawa provide glimpses into the struggle, vulnerability, and reality of working class America.

Danna Singer, Avery

"I'm not sure that the works on view say anything specific about the future of photography as an art form with the exception that the medium continues to provide unique ways to document and translate the world around us," says the curator. "The distinct perspective of the artist appears to be more and more present within the work. This may seem simple, but is a real challenge given the ubiquity of photography today."

Doublespeak: Yale MFA Photography 2017 continues through August 5 at Shulamit Nazarian. Click here, for more information.

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