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By William Corwin, September 5th, 2023

installation Image: photo Credit: Ilya Popenko

Clive Holden: UnAmerican Unfamous

How is an individual, or their image, transformed when it becomes the focus of an exhibition? Canadian photographer Clive Holden presents a second iteration of his project “UnAmerican Unfamous” at the Kingsborough Art Museum at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn.  Holden deftly juggles the many signifiers which contribute to contemporary notions of fame—most notably who is being photographed, and who is taking the picture, and to both these questions, the artist can offer up a very poetic answer of anonymity.  A line of 9 projections populate the glowing wall-like screen which runs diagonally across the KAM space.  Flickering in and out and alternating with graphic scribble like interludes drawn onto film leaders, the viewer watches a series of photo portraits of “unfamous” individuals.  On closer investigation, the photos are sourced from many places, anonymous and well-provenanced; the archives of Kingsborough Community College, chosen by the intro photography class, lead by Tommy Mintz, a photographer and co-curator of the exhibition (with the artist), as well as selected from offerings by Holden’s photographer colleagues.  


Thus, Holden supplies the matrix for images by Ellen Jacob, Jeremy Stigler, Margot Kerlidou, Robert Gurbo, and  Marcia Bricker, and others, as well as truly anonymous shutterbugs.  The chosen images, such as Jacob’s classic series of portraits taken through crinkled clear plastic, Bill Askins placid yet intense picture of a young man repairing a bicycle, or Gurbo’s aging shy pool player, are distinctive and recognizable.  The point being that the eye of the photographer lends much to the notion of fame: the angle of the sitter’s head, the photographer’s ability to catch a fleeting emotion, and the general vibe expressed through the brightness or shadows or clarity all make a person indelible in our memory.  Holden’s matrix balances the motley assortment of photographic variety with a presentation that downplays any sense of hierarchy.  The projectors display each image for a few seconds, on multiple screens, juxtaposing one person’s face with a series of colorful abstract drawings.  The face clicks here and there in our sight, and then is replaced with another individual.  So we have time to familiarize ourselves with the subject and their surroundings.  The algorithm used to create the order of the portraits never repeats, so we never associate one person or one photographer with another.


Does the non-repeating nature of the algorithm foster narrative or prevent it? Holden seems to enjoy positioning us in a place of endless questioning—who are these people?  Where are they now? Are they dead or alive?  Similar in effect to Eve Sussman’s never-ending Film Noire “White on White”, it would seem that non-repetition fascinates the viewer.  The counterpoint of abstract drawing placed alongside the face also pushes a constant sense of comparison—the directness of drawing onto the film itself—a technique of Stan Brackage and Carolee Schneeman, disrupts our perception of the real (and the reel) and returns photography to the realm of 2D representation, preventing us from falling too far into a reverie at the parade of strangers.  But these strangers are intriguing, and regardless of the abstract potential of Holden’s matrix and its desire for a level of equity, it ends up telling a story whether it wants to or not—we get to write it.

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