THE CANVAS – July 2013
By Britta Konau
When photographers Jack Montgomery, Cyndi Prince, and Shoshannah White direct their cameras at people, the resulting portraits are not what one would usually consider straight. In the images chosen for this Canvas, Montgomery’s subject blurs clear identification of gender, Prince’s subject (the artist herself) is partially hidden by darkness and architectural elements, and White’s subject not only closes her eyes but also is nearly obscured by milky layers of white. These formal and thematic strategies suggest a complexity of identity that encompasses contradictions and vulnerabilities but also the potential for profound happiness.
Born in Montclair, New Jersey, Jack Montgomery has successful careers as a lawyer and a photographer. Almost every year he has had solo exhibitions at Maine galleries and nonprofit spaces, including the Portland Museum of Art (2001), the Maine Jewish Museum (2011), and the Center for Maine Contemporary Art (2001 and 2003). His photographs are in the collections of the Portland Museum of Art, Maine Holocaust Museum in Augusta, University of New England Art Gallery, and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris. In 2000 Harper Collins published a new edition of To Kill a Mockingbird with one of Montgomery’s images on the cover. He is represented by Susan Maasch Fine Art in Portland.
ack Montgomery’s photographs are distinguished by a deep sense of empathy and sensitivity to his subjects’ individuality. He never seems to shy away from difficult themes either. Between 1995 and 1998, the artist shot his first portrait series of Holocaust survivors in Maine. Without distracting backgrounds or cluttered settings, the images capture the elderly subjects with great regard for their dignity and gravity of experience. Subsequently, he has focused his lens on a New York City ladder company that lost almost half of its firemen on 9/11 and has gone abroad to photograph villagers in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
Montgomery is also well known for his work with individuals whose gender identification and sexual practices may lie outside of the mainstream. The artist explains, “I have always been interested in people who are on the margins of society, in their stories of how they became who they are; even as a kid I had a strong sense of affinity for those being picked on.” Montgomery has realized that “photography has a tremendous capacity to get people to look at subjects they are otherwise put off by.” When he photographed a group of New York bondage fetishists in 2002, he created not a hint of sensationalism in his images; instead he focused on the individuals’ faces, a practice that respectfully suggests our common ties.
The artist has also photographed young people who experience gender variance, accompanying them on their discovery of their true self. Giving his subjects the affirmative opportunity to present themselves in the way they want to be seen, Montgomery creates portraits of great beauty and compassion. For four years now, he has been photographing Goldie Peacock, a self-described “genre-crossing, gender-blending movement artist.” All attention is given to Goldie’s face and neckline in this image, while she confronts the camera with a self-possession and certainty of her beauty that instills respect if not admiration in the viewer.
Born into a farming community in Ontario, Cyndi Prince came to Maine in 2004 to study at the Maine Photographic Workshops (now Maine Media Workshops and College). Her work has since been widely exhibited in group shows all over the country as well as in Canada and Germany. Prince has won numerous awards, including a Juried Membership to the National Association of Women Artists in 2005. Images of her work have appeared in several magazines, including once in the Nueva Luz Photographic Journal and three times in The Sun. Earlier this year her series of self-portraits was the subject of a solo show in her hometown. Her photographs were represented by Photo Edition Berlin in Germany and are now available through Millennium Images in London.
Prince received a bachelor of science degree with a focus on geology. Right after college, however, she was able to combine science with her second interest, photography, when documenting the finds of a research vessel that traveled the world for four years gathering core samples from the ocean floor.
Prince still approaches her artistic subjects like a curious observer, asking profound questions and making connections that go beyond mere surfaces. She is especially struck by “the consistency with which we act and react to surroundings, elements, and our environment,” which she first noticed during her worldwide travels.
Working in distinct series with a variety of alternative cameras, Prince is likely to thwart conventional expectations concerning subject matter, formal composition, and clarity of image. During a period of personal transition, the artist engaged in a series of self-portraits titled Self. Using a pinhole camera that has no viewfinder and requires long exposures, she captured her body from unusual angles, out of focus, and sometimes hardly in the frame at all. Resultant distortion and accidental cropping underscore the touching intimacy and familiarity between camera and subject. “When I see these images now, ‘vulnerable’ keeps coming up in my mind,” says Prince. “Even though this is me, it is also anybody in these images.” She stressed this point further in her series Being, which was shot with a twin lens camera and distorts her subjects’ bodies into white undulating shapes against a stark black background.
A few years ago Prince used an old-style Holga camera to create quietly luminous images of sheep. Glints of sunlight, atmospheric vibrancy, intense cropping, and softly blurred edges make this a highly intriguing group of images in which Prince extends her belief in the shared needs of nurturing and community to animals as well. “We really are all the same,” she says.
Shoshannah White originally came to Maine from New York City to spend a summer working at the Maine Media Workshops, but she ended up staying for good. White has participated in the Portland Museum of Art’s Artist Intervention series and over the years has executed eight projects for Percent for Art, a statewide program administered by the Maine Arts Commission. Several of her photographs are in the Dancing Bear Collection of W. M. Hunt, a selection of which has been traveling worldwide and is documented in a publication by Aperture. White is also included in The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes by Christopher James. Her fine art and editorial photography has appeared in National Geographic, Der Spiegel, Paris Vogue, and the Wall Street Journal, among many other magazines and newspapers. White is currently represented by Rose Contemporary in Portland and also shows at Corey Daniels Gallery in Wells and Foc’sle in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
Although she has a degree in photography, Shoshannah White also took painting classes and enjoys painting with oil and watercolors. It is therefore not surprising that her photographs embody some characteristics of painting, including a strong attention to color and surface. White shoots her photographs using a medium-format film, scans the images, prints them on watercolor paper, which she mounts to panels, and then applies oil paint and encaustic, a pigmented liquid wax that cools to varied transparencies. Sensitively responding to her subjects, White creates subtle suggestions of depth and intriguing variations in legibility. “My photographs have become more and more painterly, equal parts painting and photography,” she says.
White’s early work was elegiac in nature, with imagery ranging from botanical specimens and dead insects and animals to X-rays and close-ups of human body parts. Embedding these reminders of the frailty of life in layers of encaustic softens their literal and emotional edges. In more recent photographs White captures vulnerability in other terms. Plants, branches, trees, and entire landscapes seem to emerge from veils of forgetting. In her beautifully composed pictorial images of food items, marshmallows and butter take on more than nutritional significance. The artist is currently developing a series of ethereal images of the sea that resulted from a three-month residency exchange program between Maine and New Brunswick, funded in part by a grant from the Maine Arts Commission, an independent state agency supported by the National Endowment for the Arts. White considers herself extremely fortunate that she was able to stay in a lighthouse keeper’s residence on Grand Manan Island.
Shadow Self is the title of an ongoing series of portraits of friends, clients, and strangers. White explains: “I watch their movements and then direct them for my photograph, but I rarely ask them to do something that I haven’t seen them do naturally.” The subject of Jill is presently on the Portland City Council. “She was really animated but with blissed-out moments of calm too, as if she went into another world.” For White, the encaustic she applies to her portraits acts like the “invisible buffer we place between ourselves and the outside world.”