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Silver Eye’s Fellowship 17 impresses

Photographers Kris Sanford and Francis Crisafio offer different takes on identity

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The artists in Silver Eye Center for Photography’s Fellowship 17 explore identity from two different angles.

Kris Sanford, chosen by Arizona-based juror Rebecca Serf for the International Award, offers Through The Lens of Desire: two dozen repurposed found snapshots from the 1920s through the ‘50s, each depicting two people of the same gender. All of the images capture affection expressed, from two jaunty men in frock coats, arms around each other’s shoulders, to two women in fancy dresses holding hands. The Michigan-based Sanford’s artist statement explains that she “grew up queer” and intends here to create “an imaginary queer past” for these partners.

With the subjects’ faces cropped out, and each black-and-white image vignetted by a frame for a peep-hole view, Sanford’s point seems quickly made. But linger. In a couple images, one member of the pair seems more invested in togetherness, leaning toward or twining an arm around a less engaged pal. Here, perhaps, lies longing. Maybe those “imaginary histories” are more real than we imagine.

Serf’s pick for the Keystone Award, for Pennsylvania-based photographers, was Pittsburgh’s Francis Crisafio, who exhibits 32 images from his remarkable long-running project HOLDUP in The HOOD. Crisafio and collaborator Meda Rago led mostly African-American schoolkids from the Manchester neighborhood in creating self-portraits, and he photographed them holding the results in front of their real faces.

The pencil drawings often suggest subjects a bit older than the hands grasping the paper indicate. We never see the actual kids, who were likely told not to smile in their portraits, most of which wear dignified, even heartbreakingly serious expressions. One has anxiously twisted lips; a few look ready to take on the world.

Perhaps most striking are the self-portraits crafted from magazine cutouts. One kid made a mask of a lion’s face; another of a stern-looking black man; a third of a white female model’s face, his real eyes peering through scissored holes. And what to make of the collage with a hummingbird for a face, a human model’s eye and mouth, machine parts for the other eye, and grapefruit-section ears? Or of the mask fashioned from some magazine’s densely packed environmental portrait of a bearded man wearing a hat that reads “White Trash,” and sitting in what looks like his bunker? These images will haunt you for while.

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