Friday, June 13, 2014

Framed Fantasies at Translations, the work of Mandy Altimus Pond

 Behind closed doors, photograph by jk
Today was my turn to stop in and see Mandy Altimus Pond’s photographic exhibition entitled “A Long Time Ago”.  Both Dan Kane and Tom Wachunas have done extensive reviews of the show complete with photos, artist quotes and knowledgeable analysis so old Snarky here does not have much to expand upon. But I am not one to walk away from a challenge however! In my search for an angle, I decided to write about the relationship of the photos themselves to the staging and photo shoot aspects, more of the behind the scenes than the scenes themselves.  Way back in the day, 15 pounds thinner and a whole lot less wrinkly, I got to play dress up with costumes and hair and makeup then standing around looking like I was somebody else. 

Viewing Mandy’s pieces brought back those memories. Her still images are like high fashion photo shoots. Forget the story lines and the fantasy that comprise the series, that is all well documented by the other two gentlemen and in her own words and in the book which accompanies the show for a price of $25.00. I looked at the show like a designer or her clothes hanger. Which picture best told my story in a single shot? 

The walls are lined with pictures, divided into each of the three fairy tales by color and matching frames. Just a bit shy of actual mardi gras colors of yellow, purple and a greenish teal, perhaps a subconscious tip of the hat to the party scenes and costumes and masks, each color contains one storyline in a cube-like layout. Down the center of the gallery are props and costumes used to tell the story. Like anyone who has seen actual movie props or actor’s outfits, what is reality is far less exciting than how it looks on screen. Simple cardboard can be made to appear like golden trellises and shabby netting becomes a princess gown with the right lighting and venue. That is all part of the magic of movies, television and photography.  Having the real thing to compare to the one step removed from reality photograph is a good use of space and allows the viewer engage on yet another level.

Something intriguing about this set up however is that the actors and actresses who portray the characters in the story are not models in the sense we think of “models” in magazines. These images are real people who still look real, like the people we are who read the magazines and watch the TV shows and movies filled with pretty (and fake) people. Mandy’s friends, family and others assorted persons were recruited to portray various roles. Yes, they have make up and outfits, wigs and masks, props and some primping, but they are not idealized versions of what we think (or who we think) should be a prince or princess. No Angelina in prosthetic cheekbones, no dashing Antonio on horseback…just your regular guys and gals with their rounded bodies and natural imperfections that make us individuals. Even the lighting was left “natural” in that no softening of the faces appears to have been done to remove some under the eye baggage. Basically, they are shot as a fashion shoot before the air brushers get their hands on the image and make everyone look like a carbon copy of each other. No invented cleavages, no unnaturally pearly white Chiclet teeth, no puffed up fish lips and so on….these depictions are “real” and then they are also “fantasy”.  That is not easy to cast or costume I would suspect. Much planning would need to take place and there is no use of a green screen either folks. One poor girl had to lie in the actual snow and the photographer had to wait for real snow….at least that is how I figured it. Maybe she did make fake snow, but it does not really matter. A model does what a model is told to do until those behind the lens say it is okay to move….and do it over and over and over until the picture is just right. Don’t you just wonder what the “between scenes” were like? With a Scared Scriptless cast member behind the camera, I bet it was not all shut up and shoot seriousness on the set.

As fun as each picture is to digest as far as who is in it and what are they doing, the background locations are just as fascinating. Mandy embarked on an ambitious project and made it work despite personal setbacks and a need for financing. She is part of this “new” generation of artists that know how to use social media and technology and all that goes with it to make their dreams come true.  Being of the older set, I found one aspect of her work that she may not see….how it will inspire the generation to come after her. Parents of little girls who dream of being a princess or just like to play dress up (do kids do that anymore?).  The two rows of photos of grown up kids have a great time running around in the woods creating fantasy worlds, not concerned with beauty so much as substance. What better message than that is there to tell a child?  One does not have to “grow up” and be all serious, one does not have to be perfect to be a princess, the handsome prince is not always the best looking guy in the room, and other such life lessons of self-esteem can be seen in her works. It does not take expensive and exotic things to make a dream become reality, a little bit of cardboard and some hot glue will fool most people all of the time.  

In my own snarky way, I was just wishing I could see the apple being a fried chicken leg and poor old vegan Snow white just fainting dead away from the horror of it all.  Mandy has plans for more shoots and more story lines so I am sure we will see another exhibition of her work on down the road. Highly recommend one stop in and see this series however, before it closes on June 28th at Translations. If there is ever a need for “Lemonade Lucy” Hayes to make an appearance, her costume is hanging in storage. Just sayn’……….

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