Certificates of Presence: Vivian Maier, Livija Patikne, J. Lindemann

January 17 - March 8, 2014

Special Event: Thursday, February 20, 6pm. Vivian Maier reception with archive owner Jeffrey Goldstein and collection manager Anne Zakaras, followed by screening of the documentary, “The Vivian Maier Mystery,” and a discussion with one of its producers, Jeff Kurz. Tickets available here.

Also: Winter Chapel by Ashley Morgan

Portrait Society Gallery is pleased to present the work of three photographers who have each, in their own way, used the camera to define and defy a sense of social isolation. Vivian Maier was a street photographer in Chicago. Livija Patikne lived in Milwaukee and created a small body of floral still lives and self-portraits.  J. Lindemann, is an accomplished Wisconsin based photographer who is known for her collaborative work with J. Shimon.

This exhibition presents internationally known photographer Vivian Maier for the first time in Wisconsin. Focusing on the camera as a tool of agency and self-validation, each of these photographers used the camera as means of exploring their worlds, as well as solidifying and defining their place in it. The camera provided a strong definition of existence  (a “certificate of presence,” to quote Roland Barthes) in contrast to each artist’s unique condition of isolation and disenfranchisement.

Vivian Maier (1926-2009) was born in New York, grew up in France and later worked as a nanny in Chicago for many years. In her leisure time, she would privately and secretly take photographs, wandering the city in search of interesting material. In the five decades of her practice, she produced over 100,000 pictures.

In 2007, when she could no longer afford to pay rent on the storage lockers where she housed her belongings, the materials were auctioned. Two separate buyers, John Maloof and Jeffrey Goldstein, became the primary owners of her rolls of film, prints, audio recordings and films. Both have indexed, archived, researched and guided the presentation of her work.

Vivian Maier’s work has since been shown internationally. Books, exhibitions catalogs and two documentary films have been produced. Her acclaim is due to the richness of her story, but, more importantly, to the quality of the work. Maier, as a street photographer, ranks with her colleagues: Lisette Model, Helen Levitt, Harry Callahan, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Garry Winogrand, Robert Frank, Berenice Abbott. Not only was Maier adept and sensitive to human interaction in the world, but she was a great formalist; throughout her many years of practice, Maier learned to orchestrate complex structural and often sculptural compositions.

 

In contrast to Maier’s large body of work, Livija Patikne’s 300 Kodachrome slides comprise a modest legacy. 

 

Livija Patikne (1911-2001) was originally from Latvia but had lived in Milwaukee for much of her adult life. When she became elderly and had to leave her apartment to enter a nursing home, the apartment caretaker closed out her residence and gave local photographer Jim Brozek boxes of her slides. Brozek kept the slides tucked away in his closet for 15 years.

During the 1950s and ‘60s, Livija would create simple flower arrangements and dedicatedly stage them within the confines of her home. She also photographed the flowers that she would leave on the grave of her husband who had died in 1959 and took a series of self-portraits in floral patterned dresses she had sewn. Portrait Society introduced this work in the exhibition More than Real: The Death of Kodachrome and later presented an expanded project at the James Watrous Gallery in Madison, July 6 through August 19, 2012, with an accompanying essay by Debra Brehmer (Portrait Society Director) published by the Wisconsin Academy Review.

 

Like Vivian Maier, as she aged Livija lost most of her social and family ties. But, at some point, she had used the camera to define, honor, represent and reflect what she loved. The camera, as an active tool of selection, implicitly records both image and the photographer’s subjective point of view. Like Vivian Maier, Livija had little social status or sense of belonging. Yet both women insisted through their persistent work that their view of the world held beauty and value.  With autonomous authority, they quietly made themselves visible through the definition of their images. (Catalog available: $40)

J. Lindemann (b. 1957), in this recent body of iPhone pictures, was also working in isolation, but her conditions were different. Diagnosed with advanced stage cancer in November 2012, Lindemann underwent chemo and radiation treatments last winter. She could not leave the house due to her compromised immune system and sensitivity to cold. “The Life of a Shut-In” is a series of informal pictures edited from thousands that helped her explore the new contours of her altered life.  The iPhone camera became a means to engage with the very sensitized and quiet existence imposed by her physical state. Stepping out of the noise and rush of the world, a different kind of seeing set in.  She chose to elevate the everyday by capturing these moments and then posting them on Instagram. As a professional artist whose 30-year practice with her partner, J. Shimon, is grounded in historic cameras and hand-wrought printing methods, Lindemann’s use of populist tools, the iPhone and social media sharing systems, provided a counterpoint to her isolation and yet did not alter the intimacy and privacy of the images and her ongoing examination of the overlooked and the obscure. (Book available, $25)

Each project’s installation in the gallery will also reflect some of the unique conditions of these bodies of work.  Vivian Maier’s photographs will be shown conventionally, in rows of framed and matted 12 x 12 inch silver gelatin prints. The 24 images selected from the Jeffrey Goldstein collection emphasize how strong a force the curatorial/gallery/archivist’s selection process becomes in shaping the identity and legacy of the artist.

Livija Patikne’s work will be presented as a digitally projected slide show as well as in a portfolio of  editioned images, with additional prints on the wall. Having originated as Kodachrome slides, the projected sequence of images suggests the temporal nature of the work. Lindemann’s photographs will stream on three small picture monitors, allowing the seasons and passing light of each day to repeatedly fade in and out of one another. A small book prepared by J. Lindemann will be available for purchase as well as individual prints.

Press

Review, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Mary Louise Schumacher