‘Home’ at SF Camerawork collects individual visions to great effect

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The lack of a caption on an Instagram photo can add to the overall effect through its absence. While information about the photo can clarify, abstaining from adding verbal description magnifies the aesthetic and visual qualities of the picture — details are examined, and viewers begin to guess at the time and location of the capture. In this same way, the photographs exhibited at “Home: An Exhibition of Candid Photographs” were made richer because of their lack of information.

“Home: An Exhibition of Candid Photographs” was a pop-up exhibition of street photography at SF Camerawork. It was one of five pop-up exhibitions that were part of the larger StreetFoto San Francisco festival. “Home” prompted eight established American street photographers — Don Hudson, Brian Karlsson, Emilio Banuelos, Lauren Welles, Melissa Breyer, Blake Andrews, Steven Bollman and Jake Ricker — to consider the question of home.

Lacking names, titles and even dates, the photographs were left to communicate entirely on their own. A single label was posted for the entire exhibit, with the names of the exhibition and the eight artists whose work was included within it.

As suggested by the title, the show covered many aspects of home: the people who populate it and their activities, the structures and spaces that we claim as our homes, the sense of belonging to a community or city. The care with which some of the subjects were photographed indicated that they were personally close to the photographer, which could be felt but not completely understood as an onlooker.

In one photograph, a pair of Latinx girls, accompanied by two women, stands near a backdrop for a school graduation ceremony. One mother is taking a selfie with a child. The photo succinctly evoked the importance of race and culture as a unifying factor in the home. This was one of many photos featuring people of color, an indication of how a sense of home can be based on extremely personal or intrinsic values.

In another snapshot, a family watching a pickup truck in a parade stands in front of askew telephone poles, squat trees behind them on the horizon. The sparse landscape would never appear on the cover of Sunset magazine, but the casual stances and comfort of the figures suggested their pride in their humble setting.

Several photographs showed groups of children, half-dressed or naked, playing in nature. They presented an understanding of home as something more than a physical location. The varied locations that served as the backdrop for play came to life with the dynamic compositions and the movements of the children they depicted. They suggested the idea of home as the primary or only location of early child development — their experiences of the world molded by their experiences of home.

All of the photographs presented skillful composition, but this was not enough to produce thematic impact. Two photos arranged profiles or faces against almost abstract backgrounds, sacrificing legibility to the arrangement of tone and shapes. While intriguing, they did little to indicate the photographers’ senses of home or act as a canvas for the viewer to project their own memories onto.

Only one of the photos presented a recognizable location: a photo of a couple composing themselves for a wedding photograph with the Bay Bridge in the background. The other photographs took joy in their generic settings — a muddy front yard, a crowded sidewalk, the hallway of an apartment building, a sparsely decorated kitchen. The successful photos elevated their nameless settings to resonate with the viewer’s sense of home. Several used stunning composition to achieve this. In one, a figure seated on the sidewalk is placed near the center of the frame, with the lines of the concrete carving a grid around them and the circle of the crowd moving past leaving a halo of space around the figure.

The exhibit’s minimal layout and risky dissociation of photographer from photo worked well to create a softly defined world of people, buildings and scenes. However, some of the components relied too heavily on flashy composition or contrast and failed to communicate an individual perception of domesticity. Overall, the exhibition was a clever showing of the work of multiple artists that succeeded in evoking a larger theme through juxtaposition.

Contact Patrick Tehaney at [email protected]. Tweet him at @patricktehaney.

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