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A photographer's job is to see things differently, to capture scenes others miss. When you show something that normally others wouldn't think to look at, at least framed that way, that's when you become a photographer, as opposed to just another person with a camera. A sensitivity to the people, places and things that surround us, finding what's alive, even in abstraction, defines the medium.
One morning in Detroit, sometime last summer, Crystal Carrow woke up to find daylight washing her bedroom, pouring through a thin curtain, giving her lover's shoulder a pink hue. She understood what she had there. So she left bed for a moment to get her camera. With the press of a button, at 10:24 a.m., a photo series found its starting point.
Carrow calls her compilation of hundreds of snapshots "A Personal Documentation of the Basic Human Need for Others." Like passages in a novel or the objects in a bedroom (his clothes, her books, his baseball bat, her jewelry box), the images, when taken together, tell a story. It's about how we come together in everyday life, the rituals we create or in which we partake. Her pictures are defined by honesty, not intrusiveness. By drawing back the covers, leaving signs of her own participation in the portrait, Carrow, the photographer, in her absence, hints at her presence, giving us access to an intimate moment uninhibited by voyeuristic tension. She rarely turns a lamp on or lets a flash intrude. Her best scenes, featuring dinner with friends or Easter at grandma's house, are diffused by light that's soft and forgiving.
Thanks to a new Detroit-based blog, we now have a chance to look at life through the lenses of several local photographers. Their subconscious speaks as they pursue identities as artists, wandering unknown through broken story lines and strange dreams.
Twenty-three-year-old photographer Emily Berger recently initiated the White Walls Collective blog to maintain the support system she had as a student at College for Creative Studies.
"Initially I wanted to cover all artistic mediums on the blog," she says, "but I felt most comfortable discussing photography in a halfway intelligent manner. With painting and sculpture, I was afraid I would not do the work justice."
On White Walls, Berger fosters discussions about the state of contemporary photography, recently debating the role of the fine art narrative in fashion photography. She calls attention to such current creative networks as the online photo mag F-Stop and the New York-based nonprofit Humble Arts Organization, and nods to an older generation of photographers, blogging about Bill Rauhauser's wispy, 1950s Belle Isle summers of natives in linen and love. Berger also compares and contrasts local artists' work with photography by non-Detroiters. Her ultimate goal is to have a physical space where she can hold shows and group critiques.
"There's no virtual replacement for the relationship you can form with other artists or artwork, physically holding a print or putting it on the wall," she says.
For now, she's eager about introducing talented shooters to one another, making contacts and generating excitement about local photography.
Excitement is the perfect word. White Walls presents a diverse array of photographers whose disjointed narratives and fractured imagery tease with a snippet of a story, one that can be serene or suspicious. The open-endedness lets viewers interpret for themselves what's going on.
Aside from Carrow, Berger presents the surrealist photography of Cyrus Karimipour, 34, a recent Cranbrook grad whose experimental collages deal in the philosophical concern of invented memory. His black-and-white photos recall feverish hallucinations that encroach upon a child. By burning edges and splicing film, Karimipour alters the faces of strangers, transforming ambivalent expressions into haunting zombie masks, set against a woozy, spinning, drunken backdrop.
Elizabeth Wight could, too, be defined by a twilight mood. The cast of characters featured in photos by this CCS grad perform peculiar tasks with props in unfamiliar spaces. The idea came from a time a couple of years ago when Wight, who's now 24, was in a bad mental place, maligned by vertigo. Using her illness as inspiration like Dostoyevsky, she lights up uncomfortable scenes. Seemingly "normal" people sporting T-shirts and jeans (or nothing at all) act oddly. Lone figures perch on a ledge or curl up in a ball, acting as if uncertain doom awaits them in the moment after the camera clicks. Even in group shots, these figures are isolated, maintaining a drafty distance.
It's worth your time to check out whitewallcollective.blogspot.com, to see a role-playing series by Berger herself. Other oeuvres of note are the smoke-stained still-lifes by Lauren Montogomery, documentation of monotonous U-Hauling by former Michigander Liz Kuball, portraits by Melanie Bailey, and art by scads more hot, young Detroiters, finding themselves behind the camera.
Rebecca Mazzei is Metro Times arts and culture editor. Send letters to email@example.com.