Six photographers play house at HPAC

By Alexandra McInnis

No Place Like Home, Hyde Park Art Center’s new exhibit, gives an ironic twist to Dorothy’s Kansas-bound journey in The Wizard of Oz. The exhibit, curated by Chicago photographer Dawoud Bey, features six photographers who explore stereotypes of domestic and communal life. No Place Like Home questions preconceived notions of home by presenting clichés, analyzing them, and defying them. Through their work, the photographers demonstrate that homes and the relationships within them are complex, and largely influenced by political, cultural, economic, and social factors.

The exhibition begins with the work of Leilani Wertens, whose photographs depict the bare interiors of houses in the midst of estate sales. Devoid of their former inhabitants, these homes are reduced to a series of objects with price tags, waiting to be sold and put to use elsewhere. Werten’s somber color scheme and moody lighting conveys the cynical notion that home is not deep-rooted, but is rather dispensable; formerly treasured objects are left behind or carelessly lost. Her standout piece, “Central Road, Village of New Lenox, IL 60541,” is an image of a wall once covered with family photographs. Only a single portrait remains on the wall, smiling innocently towards the viewerl, the last remnant of the home’s previous life.

While the works of the other photographers possess a subtle sadness, those of Lisa Lindvay uses sadness consciously and powerfully. In a series of six photographs, Lindvay explicitly depicts the troubled quality of her own home. Some shots portray unhappy teenagers; others such as “Family Room” show living spaces littered with garbage. Lindvay’s photos sometimes border on being merely angsty, but one image, “My Dad Napping with Zoe,” adds more depth to her selection. This image of a middle-aged man sleeping with his arm around a dog shows that certain simple pleasures are shared by every household.

Jason Reblando’s work is made up of photographs taken in three separate neighborhoods in Maryland, Ohio, and Wisconsin, respectively. Each community was part of Franklin Roosevelt’s vision for economic reform during the New Deal. Reblando’s work depicts socioeconomic disparity and racial barriers in these so-called utopias through contrasting photographs. In one side-by-side pairing, a picture of four black men sitting on a bench in a desolate field is laid next to one of a group of white senior citizens at a performance near a park gazebo. Reblando ultimately questions the legitimacy of these ideal communities, given the glaring social inequities within them.

Jessica Rodrigue’s photographs also focus on Chicago, specifically the exteriors of homes and communities in industrial areas. Her images reveal a world of chain-link fences, uninviting parks, and shabby houses. The most interesting composition, “Electrical Tower,” is shot so that the homes behind the tower appear to be ensnared in the metal framework, while a discreet warning sign hangs from one of the beams. Here, home is depicted as a cold, uninviting, even unsafe place that is sectioned off and alienated from the viewer.

In Jon Lowenstein’s black and white photographs of Chicago’s South Side, the subjects range from children playing in open spaces to a teenage girl wearing a prom dress in her living room. Lowenstein also depicts a darker side to the community by including personal loss and gang activity. He captures the rich sense of community shared among the residents as well as the troubles they face. Of the photographers featured in this exhibit, Lowenstein best expresses his ideas on the meaning of “home.”

However, University of Chicago Ph.D. student David Schalliol demonstrates that the fundamental social troubles that plague inner city neighborhoods remain even after the community disappears. He focuses primarily on the physical and economic depreciation of real estate in Chicago’s South and West Sides. Each photograph is titled “Isolated Building,” followed by an individual number. The ambiguity of the titles suggests these photographs are part of a larger trend, and not merely a particular sociological sampling. Nevertheless, Schalliol’s works are insightful and raise controversial questions, such as the roles race and socioeconomic status play in the development of a community and the future status of these neighborhoods.

By featuring multiple photographers No Place Like Home captures the subjectivity that lies in the notion of home. The exhibit pushes the viewers to explore the dynamics of communities and the relationships among those both within the community and the surrounding area. The titular Wizard of Oz reference is certainly appropriate: No matter how unsightly or troubled, home is the unique epicenter of our lives, and there is no place quite like it.