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New Art Photography: Curtis Hamilton Solves Problems with Photography

Photographing the “mundane” has become such an overused genre that it feels at times as trite as a photograph of a business handshake. Curtis Hamilton’s ongoing untitled body of work gives this trend new vitality by depicting objects that have affected him personally. His careful consideration gives the tradition a freshness that leads viewers to examine details overlooked in their lives.

Curtis’ practice is a mix of photographer-as-wanderer, and photographer-as-archivist. He collects objects that initially feel random or impersonal, but, in fact, have impacted his life, and uses precisely composed titles to emphasize an often-terrifying personal significance. The Value of People, for example is one of several photographs of the interior pattern of a junkmail envelope that overwhelm him on a daily basis. Another photo, Three Strikes depicts Curtis’ rear car windshield after it was smashed with a baseball bat. Seeing these in his edited, captioned context, the viewer is forced to grapple with a reality of the overlooked. Whether they are flies collected on flypaper, pieces of junkmail or evidence of violent acts like the smashing of Curtis’ car window, Curtis views his subjects as ongoing problems which he ultimately uses photography to understand.

Curtis’ technical process is essential to his way of seeing. Unlike many photographers working today, especially those swooned by the immediacy of Instagram; he adamantly works with a large format 4×5 camera on a tripod, shooting one sheet of black and white film at a time. The slowed down process and large negative gives a heartbeat to inanimate objects. This is especially evident in “All the Lint Let Loose Over Winter,” a straightforward photograph of lint collected from dryer machines. With Curtis’ hand and the detail of the 4×5, this collection of random matter has the appearance of a heavily cloaked, praying stranger. This abstraction is further exemplified by Curtis’ decision to shoot entirely in black and white, which gives his work a grounded starkness that, as Curtis puts it “registers as a deliberate sort of fiction.”

Curtis acknowledges some influence from Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel’s 1970’s project “Evidence,” in how he organizes and edits his photos. While Mandel and Sultan edited found photos from medical, historical and crime scene archives to create fictitious narratives, Curtis uses his own practice to tell new stories about the world around him.  He also draws a connection to the writing of Charles Bukowski, specifically what he refers to as Bukowsi’s  “drunk realism and doom as it’s carried out in states of idleness.” With this, he borrows from two very different traditions using them as an archive ripe for organization. These delicately edited fictions bring a fresh, exciting glow to the everyday, and encourage viewers to reconsider how these objects effect their daily lives.

Curtis Hamilton received an MFA in Advanced Photographic Studies from the International Center of Photography – Bard College in 2011. He was awarded the New Photography Grant from the Humble Arts Foundation for 2011-12.  He has recently participated in exhibitions at The Gowanus Ballroom, The Flash Forward Photography Festival, The Lishui Museum of Photography, and at The Port Authority Bus Terminal.  He lives and works in Brooklyn.

Jon Feinstein
Jon Feinstein - 6 articles
Jon Feinstein is a curator, photographer, the Co-Founder of Humble Arts Foundation and Strategic Partnerships Manager at Shutterstock. Jon has curated numerous exhibitions, most recently including Ano[...]
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