(Paul Kopeikin Gallery, West Hollywood) It
would be easy at first glance to lump Andrea Modica's photographs into a
nice, neat pile with other "documentary" artists such as Diane
Arbus, Walker Evans or even Paul Strand, but to do so would be to miss the
key point of her work. She is interested in the creation of fantasies, fables,
and fairy tales. These are not easy, straightforward images to contemplate
from a safe distance, but powerful and haunting views that thrust us into
an alien world, confronting us with what we fear most-the unknown.
One of the aspects of Modica's work that I find so captivating is the beauty of her prints. The poor quality reproductions that one normally finds in books, magazines, and newspapers cannot even hint at the richness and warmth of the actual prints. She employs the platinum print, a technique long abandoned by mainstream photographers and more often associated with turn-of-the-century photography. She uses platinum prints because they have a more extended tonal range than silver gelatin (what most photograph- ers use for black and white prints today). Modica also likes the fact that the image is in the paper, not sitting on top of it, like silver gelatin.
She is an artist in love with the medium's process, which is why she uses the "old fashioned" and cumbersome 8" x 10" view camera rather than a 35mm, medium format, or even a 4" x 5" view camera. This contemplative and time consuming relic from another era, whose operational process is closer to a Zen ceremony, forces the artist to contemplate deeply her subject matter before tripping the shutter. One cannot "snap and shoot" with this equipment. The combination of camera and hand-made print create stunning and unforgettable images.
The photographs on view are from her Treadwell, N.Y. series, which explores a family with fourteen children living on the edge of survival. Modica has followed the family around as it struggles to survive in their harsh economic circumstance. As she stated in an earlier interview: ". . .this is a very large family, many of them did not make it through grammar school, they are on and off welfare, and involved with some violence. Their values are very different from mine, but through this project over the years we've found some common ground, in addition to which my fears and prejudices have been challenged."
She is concerned with photographing things that she does not understand and through this process come to an understanding. Modica's journey, as recorded by her camera, which has included a psychiatric hospital, a minor league baseball team, as well as this New York family, is extraordin- ary.
One of the "stars" of her Treadwell series is Barbara, an overweight young woman whose face haunts many of these images. We often are confronted with her hunched over from behind, as if she was hiding from us. We find her placed in a bare bedroom, in a field of large rocks and weeds, or in a backyard/field strewn with garbage. We are given the impression that she is as important and disposable as her surroundings. The isolation from her environment is overwhelming.
The two most powerful images are also the simplest. In the first, we are presented with her two small hands holding a child's pair of lace panties over a rough blanket. What kind of message does that image carry? In the other, Barbara is lying on her back wrapped in a blanket with only her face showing. With the light falling gently on her face, she could either be dead or an angel. It is a haunting image. Modica gives us just enough information for our imagination to take over and create our own reality. While the formality of her compositions reminds us of the work of such early Italian Renaissance masters as Giotto and Masaccio, the rawness and intimacy of the subject matter is pure modernism.
While confrontational and sometimes disturbing, Modica's work ranks among the best being created today. These strong and engaging works are not to be missed.