On the surface “Imagine That” portrays great art through the eyes of youth. On a deeper level the series uses youth’s innocence as metaphor for beauty, aesthetics and humanism. My intent is to emphasize the sensual in addition to the intellectual in how we relate to art. Thus, the series rebels against the notion, too widely in vogue, that conceptual photography must disdain aesthetics.
While expressing a concept is essential to create art that resonates and enriches within its time, too often conceptualism drives artists to deny aesthetics. In degrading beauty, contemporary art often privileges the negative in culture with a pervasively dehumanizing effect. Beauty and aesthetics are nebulous concepts that change as culture evolves. But in whatever epoch, the sine qua non of beauty is its sensual appeal and ability to connect with the soul. Beauty has the power to strengthen art by engaging our humanity as well as our intellect, thereby uplifting the spirit, even when the conceptual message may be disturbing. Thus, I intend my “Imagine That” series to contribute to a much needed discourse on beauty.
“Imagine That” also speaks to how individual identity and contemporary culture can be shaped by our ability to relate to the wisdom of past generations through the canon of art. Are we destined to be mere observers standing isolated from the lessons of history or will we enrich our future by imagining to cross the picture plane into the artist’s world to engage in an age old conversation with history?
Addressing issues of colonialism and perception, Contact invokes historic first contact in Oceana as seen through Western eyes in a series of portraits of Polynesian women draped in pre-contact inspired fabrics, in classic Western and biblical poses, fused with 18th century engravings from Captain Cook’s seminal Pacific expeditions.
When Captain James Cook arrived in Oceana he found complex island cultures, firmly developed aesthetics, earthy tones and richly adorned decorative arts. As with orientalism, the West saw these Pacific cultures as exotic. Considering them paradise, they were represented through classically Western compositions. Centuries of Western sway perpetuated the cultural adulteration, obscuring pre-contact ways and coalescing into today’s aesthetic tourist mélange. While Contact draws on history, similar projections of cultural identity infect every contact between culturally diverse civilizations and individuals. Contact thus embodies universal themes.
Contact’s subjects wear pre-contact inspired fabrics I researched, designed and had produced. Portraying Western inability to appreciate cultural differences, I shot the figures in classic Western and biblical poses, fusing them into backgrounds I modified from 18th century engravings of Cook’s expeditions.
Throughout the history of Western art, men and women have sought to immortalize themselves through portraits and grand history paintings. Kings and queens, the church, merchants and artists, too, all have so indulged themselves, frequently employing the symbols and stories of antiquity to enhance their stature. Not until the industrial revolution and the advent of the bourgeoisie would artists become Baudelaire’s painters of modern day life, depicting and elevating everyday people to the stature of a history painting.
In Canon, I call upon these traditions. Borrowing from the 19th century’s early avant-garde, I have chosen ordinary persons — housekeepers, doormen, fitness trainers and other conventional people. I have dressed them in the cloaks of Roman emperors and the finery of the European court. For each, I have chosen a painting from the canon of art to reflect the formal elements of the sitter’s face, posture or coloring. Using the techniques of the academics, I have given each sitter the licked finish of master portraits, occasionally mixing and morphing faces to achieve uncanny visual parallels. With no clue to distinguish them, portrayed against the canon of art, everyone is a giant. Canon thus celebrates the most far reaching conceptual development of our time — the democratization of the masses.
At the same time, Canon also rebels against the contemporary worship of the purely conceptual, for through these portraits, viewers transcend the art historical barriers of time. In depicting ordinary people as part of extraordinary paintings, we, the viewers, are carried into and out of master works of art. We imagine ourselves within a Velázquez, amidst the exoticism of Gauguin’s Tahiti, or as witness to David’s vision of antiquity.
By appropriating master paintings, Canon also blurs the line between photography and painting and challenges notions of the unique in art.
Brides of Central Park
Brides Of Central Park captures the modern phenomenon of brides commissioning photographers to construct and photograph elaborate nuptial scenes devoid of actual sentiment to create dream-like wedding day memorabilia. In Brides, fantasy overrides reality as photographers create artificial bridal moments in a famous public space – New York’s Central Park – often well in advance of a couple’s actual wedding day. Almost daily, would-be brides, many in rented bridal gowns worn like costumes over jeans and running shoes, visit Central Park with retinues of photographers and videographers. They pose in bizarre settings and imaginary cinematic moments long on drama, yet short on reality. Some of the images in this series speak to the artifice of manufactured sentimentality, while others capture amusing oddities.
Reaching beyond the question of what is real, this series compels us to ask whether constructed memories can become more meaningful than real events, whether photography can infuse life into staged emotional moments and even whether created nuptial memories can surpass in importance the marriage contract itself.
In keeping with the tradition of photographers taking pictures of photographers taking pictures, this series also invites us to ponder the role of photographers in memory making. Are these memory moments constructed by brides or photographers? How many times will the happy couple view and share their photographic mementos before the images take on a reality not present in their creation? Exactly how do reality, memory and photography interact? And, finally, whose memories are these anyway?
Coney Island, Coming Of Age
Like the rites of passage shared by kids at swimming holes the world over, summer after summer bravado bands of tough-talking inner city teens have gathered along the railings of New York’s Coney Island pier in shows of camaraderie and displays of prowess with daring feats of diving into the waves below. But change, too, is universal and no stranger to Coney Island, America’s historic playground by the sea along New York’s Brooklyn shoreline. Its early history as an elegant resort destination has long since been overshadowed by a relentless decline into the tawdry but colorful scene for which Coney Island became known. As developers and politicians now steer a course for gentrification, the Coney Island pier has fallen prey to shifting sentiments, as well. Now displaced by the sterility of park patrols and families with baby carriages in tow, this urban swimming hole has been reclaimed in the name of family values and public safety. The images in Coney Island, Coming of Age were taken during the summer of 2010 before the imposition of stricter controls and the renovation of the pier after the ravages of Superstorm Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Coming of Age, thus, represents a final portrait of a now lost Coney Island tradition. As for the spirited bands of young fans and divers, rowdy and profane with pants hanging low and bodies streaked with ocean salt, they no longer congregate along the historic Coney Island pier. Theirs is a vanished tradition which evidenced the shared bonds of youth in its prime somewhere between the throes of adolescence and brink of adulthood.
In 2005, Calli earned a Master’s Degree in Modern Art at Christie’s Education. Intrigued by the cross cultural aspects of, and influences on, modernity, she further honed her artistic vision at Columbia University studying Chinese, Japanese, Mesoamerican, Classical Greek and Roman art history, as well as additional studies in Modernism. She trained in photography at the International Center of Photography in New York City. Calli resides in New York City and Hawaii with her husband, Bob.
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