At Gallery 339 in Philadelphia, PA, curators of an upcoming photographic exhibition of buildings were stumped when it came to naming their exhibition:
Initially we thought, “Photos of Buildings,” hmmm . . . “Buildings and Photographs” . . . “Photos of Architecture” . . . After several similarly uninspired permutations, it seemed that this process was telling us something; an exhibition of just buildings could be a little dry. But what else goes with buildings? The answer came courtesy of The Talking Heads, who released the album, “More Songs About Buildings and Food” in 1978.
The exhibition, “More Photos About Buildings and Food,” displays the work of 32 photographers who explore the inherently tricky subjects of buildings and food. “Portraiture considers the mystery of the individual and street photography captures the theater of the public realm, but buildings and food contain none of these vivifying characteristics; they must be brought to life.”
The show includes photographs by Boston College alumna Lydia Panas (BC, Psychology ‘80). Panas is an award-winning photographer based in Pennsylvania. With her backyard as her studio, she has been practicing portrait photography for 20 years. After recording and depicting her children throughout their early lives, she began looking at other friends and family. “In each frame packed with detail, she is searching for clues in her subjects’ gestures, poses and glances that will lead to an understanding of how they relate to each other, and how they see themselves. They are complex emotions that guide us. Sometimes what we try to conceal is the most revealing.”
Panas’s, quirky, introspective contributions to the “More Photos About Buildings and Food” exhibition merge the still-life genre with her work in portraiture, and deliberately imitate the old Dutch Masters and early religious works. In Panas’s photos, the subjects wear masked, subtle expressions and hold single items of food. Their clothing is often eclipsed, or is unmarked and plain. “The viewer is forced to deal with expression, gesture, posture, and not much else. There is no context, no location, no status, no circumstance.”
The photos are eerily intriguing—they draw the viewer in with their sharp focus, but evade any definite interpretation or meaning. The viewer cannot think about the food item without taking in the subject’s face, gesture, and expression, but the faces mask intense emotion. Panas says of the portraits, “The pictures are focused on emotions that are very subtle. I ask the viewer to connect to a feeling . . . Sometimes the way the food is held is a clue . . . There is an ambiguity which makes the encounter unclear.”
This combined intensity and ambiguity is part of the mesmerizing quality of Panas’s photos. “Are they offering or withholding?” Panas asks, “I am fascinated by these ideas.”
In 2012, Panas published her first monograph, The Mark of Abel (Kehrer Verlag), which Photo District News recently named one of the best photo books of 2012. On Wednesday, October 31, 6-8pm, Panas will lead Portrait Night at the Photographic Resource Center at Boston University (832 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02215). The evening will include a presentation, discussion, and book signing. Copies of The Mark of Abel will be available for purchase. For more information, visit the PRC website.
“More Pictures of Buildings and Food” will run at Gallery 339 September 12–December 22, 2012. For more information about the exhibition, visit Gallery 339, or call 215.731.1530.
Click here for more information on Panas’s presentation, discussion, and book signing at the PRC, or call 617.975.0600.