Selected from among almost 300 entrants, the two awardees in Silver Eye Center for Photography's Fellowship 12 competition could hardly be more different while falling within the realm of art photography. Still, as selected by Julie Saul, long-time director of the eponymous photography gallery in New York, both their series rely on the convincing descriptive power of photography.
Akihiko Miyoshi, of Portland, Ore., won the International Fellowship with work that teeters between abstraction and realism. In photography, experimentalism can be traced at least as far as the 1920s' Bauhaus, and Miyoshi evinces an understanding of photography's history as well as its formal properties.
Miyoshi's experimentalism is tightly scripted as to props: studio-bound view camera on tripod, patches of color created by filters and swatches of tape, and the artist's visage masked by the black cloth a view camera necessitates for focusing. Likewise in terms of approach, with symmetrical compositions and a limited space, with the foreground or middle ground thoroughly out of focus. Such work was once considered self-reflexive or structuralist, a deadly serious interrogation of photographic grammar. But currently it falls more within the pervasive postmodern pursuit of the playful. And it veers toward the wry in work like Miyoshi's "Abstract Photograph (112811g)," in which the photographer's out-of-focus silhouette is in dialogue with the plane of blurry color.
The Keystone Award for a Pennsylvania photographer went to Isa Leshko, of Philadelphia. In the aftermath of caring for her mother with Alzheimer's, Leshko traveled to animal sanctuaries to make portraits of elderly animals. Household pets and farm animals are depicted in portraits of a high order. Each subject is carefully positioned within the frame, integrated with the visual possibilities on hand — light and shadow, hay, weathered wood — and with a variety of angles and "poses" that convey the uniqueness of the animals.
"Ash, Domestic White Turkey, Age 8" receives the full treatment in a series of four photographs; in version two, Ash is poised at rest with head centered against a black space, dramatically contrasting light and dark. "Red, Chow Mix, Age 14+" has a poignancy way beyond the owner-driven conventions of pet photography. Exquisite and moving, the photographs are a reminder of the animals' vulnerability, our culpability for their treatment and, not incidentally, our own mortality.