Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Brett Bell

Bugle Boy
copyright Brett Bell

Shawn D & Nick in Bed
copyright Brett Bell

Essman Dunn Road
Sullivan, MO
copyright Brett Bell

This morning, I had the honor and pleasure of participating in the MFA review committee at Parsons for a graduate student in the photography program, Brett Bell. I met Brett in January 2007 when I gave an artist talk to the photo students in the MFA program at Parsons. I was utterly nervous beforehand and slightly traumatized afterwards, and this sweet boy with a soft southern-sounding voice came up to me later to introduce himself.

Brett and I stayed in touch, and I gradually got to know him better as a person and as an artist. That Brett and I would come to recognize an affinity towards one another's backgrounds and experiences in photography was inevitable.

Brett grew up in Sullivan, Missouri, where he said this morning, there weren't any visible gay people. His early and untitled series of photographs shot in 2005 and 2006 in Missouri consists of portraits Brett constructed using his friends as raw material to create fictitious characters based on his own memories, longings and fantasies. With careful and sometimes campy staging and evocative uses of light and a sense of place, Brett creates a group of adolescent outcasts such a transgender teenager lounging on a bed in a pink room, a lonely overgrown tomboy with a tough and vulnerable scowl, and a number of sultry young men whose appeal is unmistakably homoerotic. Brett's cast of characters is simultaneously autobiographical and iconic of freak kids in small towns everywhere. His images look almost like film stills for a film that doesn't actually exist, but might be something like The Outsiders meets Mysterious Skin meets Hairspray.

Brett turns both towards and away from his appreciation of camp in later work. His campiest work is perhaps his series of images shot from television screens of male figures in soap operas who, when reframed by Brett, become objects of male desire. The title of this series, Sometimes Love is Like a Storm that Blows through and Destroys Everything in its Path, might be one of my all-time favorite titles for a body of work. Why? Because it is true and it is funny, and only a certain romantic type like Brett would come up with something like that, and I love those romantic types.

But perhaps Brett arrived at his strongest series of work, Life is Meant to be Shared, when he set aside his affection for artifice and exaggeration for a more straightforward and lyrical approach to making images. He combines photographs of young men that are more like sophisticated snapshots in contrast to his earlier staged images with beautiful and melancholic photographs of landscapes and interiors in his hometown. The connection to his subjects seems even more intimate, and his nostalgia for Missouri is heartfelt and moving.

Brett will be showing some of this work at two exhibitions later this month. Five of his images will be included in a show which opens at Agora Gallery on August 21rst, and more will be shown in his MFA Thesis Exhibition which opens at Parsons on August 27th.

1 comment:

myanthony said...

tema thanking you for sharing your beauty. I love you so and I offer a special prayer for you and Paris.