The human being is hot again. Hence, at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Barkley Hendrick's strutting figures come on the heels of Sidney Goodman's writhing ones and the Institute of Contemporary Art's dancing ones ("Dance with Camera"). Curious portraiture abounds, too, as in the Philadelphia Museum of Art's
, which offers a fairly thorough examination of the mysterious female at the center of Marcel Duchamp's notorious PMA assemblage of the same name; Tina Newberry's eccentric visions of herself in male military costume; and Susan Hagen's carved-wood tweens at Schmidt Dean Gallery, or Zoe Strauss' Arbus-like snapshots of South Philly denizens at Gallery 339.
"Beautiful Human" at Haverford College's Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery focuses on a gentler, slightly more ephemeral branch of the figure revival. Its curator, Shelley Spector, has brought together six artists who use the human image as a cypher for goodness, integrity, and spirituality, and whose mostly simple means and materials match the modesty of their images.
The show's theme is most perfectly limned by the photographs of Donald E. Camp, a former photojournalist who has been making large-scale photographic portraits of African Americans for more than 15 years. Camp's images of these solitary faces bring the newspaper head shot or police mug shot to mind, while the prints' distressed, brown-tinged surfaces give them the appearance of daguerreotypes. Knowing Camp's organic printing process - his unique photographs are made using earth for pigment and milk for casein - reinforces the sense of integrity his works already project.
The work of the show's only other photographer, Laura Graham, who pairs masked human subjects with animals, or unmasked humans with taxidermic animals, is accomplished but seems somewhat out of place here.
Rob Matthews' graphite-on-paper portraits of his friends and family holding objects of importance to them are beautiful drawings, which always helps, but his subjects also have a beatific inner glow, a quality that is emphasized by the lighting in which he portrays them and the shadows they cast. Look past the T-shirts, etc., and they could be saints and martyrs posing in everyday contemporary gear.
Who hasn't been in in a public place where everyone is on a cell phone, wandering around like a zombie? That familiar, isolating experience inspired Joshua Mosely's mixed-media film animation, Commute, in which a lone "hero" on a cell phone navigates the moon. He's the Everyman in search of companionship, but hasn't a clue where he's going (I'm remembering Mark Kostabi).
Freaks populate James G. Mundie's careful pen-and-ink drawings of circus sideshow performers posed as art historical figures, and you feel a surge of sympathy and admiration for the underdog, portrayed so elegantly and empathetically here.
Matthew Fisher, who like Graham doesn't easily fall into place here, is (like Graham) fascinated by the disguised person. Nonetheless, his renderings of hapless military figures of an earlier day on scrap paper are utterly charming.
Philadelphia is Photography Central in the next few months, with shows, workshops, and lectures devoted to virtually every aspect of the medium as it was and is practiced here. On the roster of exhibitions celebrating the history of photography in Philadelphia:
The Philadelphia Museum of Art's "Common Ground: Eight Philadelphia Photographers in the 1960s and 1970s" (through Jan. 31); the Print Center's "Streets of Philadelphia: Photography 1970-1985" (through Nov. 21); Gallery 339's "Personal Views: Contemporary Photographic Portraiture in Philadelphia" (through Nov. 14); the Woodmere Art Museum's "Third Woodmere Triennial of Contemporary Photography" (through Jan. 3); the Library Company of Philadelphia's "Catching a Shadow: Daguerreotypes in Philadelphia 1939-1860" (tomorrow through Feb. 26); and the Philadelphia Photo Art Center's "NEXT: Emerging Philadelphia Photographers (through Nov. 29).
In the Art Museum's Perelman Building, "Common Ground" looks at photography's experimental '60s and '70s through the lenses of six innovative Philadelphia-based photographers and professors, among them Emmet Gowin and Ray K. Metzker. At the Print Center, Philadelphia at the time of the Queen's visit, the progress of I-95's construction, Mayor Rizzo, MOVE, and Brian De Palma's Blow Out are brought back to life in photographs by James B. Abbott, Paul Cava, The Inquirer's Tom Gralish, David Graham, Nancy Hellebrand, Paul McGuirk, Stephen Perloff, Laurence Salzmann, Stephen Shore, and 16 others.