Troy Schulze has the dish on Diverseworks’ Understanding Poverty , and he makes it seem oh-so-easy to express empathy without feeling bad. Concentrating his analysis on Snow, the teenaged
runaway streetwalker protagonist of half the show, Schulze gets rhetorical (How does one capture a completely objective story on camera without influencing it in some way?), incredulous (Despite her situation, [Snow] is smiling in many of these pictures…), aloof (…it’s called "Understanding Poverty," but that understanding is clearly a work in progress for all.) and circular (Truth is an ever-elusive ideal in documentary photography, and it’s the photographers’s job to pursue and represent truth, but it’s an inherantly impossible ideal. Nevertheless, DeSoto is essentially on target.)
Didja get that last bit?
I don’t know, but I went to see the show and it killed me. Not that it was the most heart-wrenching thing I’d ever seen (I think that would be the last 2 hours of Dancer in the Dark), but between the subject matter (especially Ben White) and the underwhelming installation (smallish photos and few closeups) I felt bad for both the homeless and the space. It didn’t help that I went to go see Damaged Romaticisms at the Blaffer first. It also didn’t help that the city got tore up by Ike and the economy was wrecked by human ingenuity; every association I have relates to destruction. The stories of Ben White and Snow are personifications of the half-million Houstonians living in poverty. I would have preferred less snapshots in 8 1/2 x 11 and more monstrous C-prints, bringing them into our own space, making understanding easier through identification with the subjects.
The crack-smoking and dope-shooting were sequestered but vivacious, they could have been mixed with portraits to humanize their unseen protagonists and amp up the fragility of Snow and Ben White. Three or four ‘artworks’ by DeSoto in the foyer are odd; comprised of source materials (pics, shoes, newspapers, letters) sunk into concrete and leaned against the wall they either don’t grab one’s attention or seem like a heartfelt but doomed prediction for their subjects. For me DeSoto is best when he channels Nan Goldin and stays away from Diane Arbus, but he has tons of pics on his site (last link) and in the show so you should check it out- but I am warning you…
I feel horrible.
also by Sean Carroll
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