On display at The Raven Grill – 1916 Bissonnet St., Houston, TX 77005
Opening Reception: March 19, 2014 5pm-8pm
On View: March 19 – May 4, 2014
HOUSTON (March 3, 2014) – Showing in Houston for the first time during the 2014 FotoFest Biennial, San Francisco-based Project B will present their solo exhibition Camera Era: Freeze Frames from a World Long Gone opening to the public on March 19th at The Raven Grill—1916 Bissonnet St. Co-founded by artists Barbara Levine and Paige Ramey, PROJECT B specializes in the collecting, preservation and publishing of vintage photographs made by unknown photographers. They combine unusual artistic and curatorial practices to their archive of found photos to create one of a kind books and large format pigment prints. Levine has been collecting vernacular photography for nearly 25 years, sifting through thousands of photos at antique stores, flea markets and on eBay. “When I graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute I had a feeling there wasn’t any photo I could make that had not already been made, and the vernacular photos I was finding and saving were far more compelling to me than my own contact sheets, “ Levine explains. “After going to museum school, I realized I had become a collector and through giving new life to these artifacts, I was expressing the beauty and mystery in photographs outside of what we traditionally consider art.”
Camera Era, the group’s first exhibition in Houston, deals with our relationship to the camera then and now. As technology has advanced, cameras have continued to be a constant presence in our lives, allowing us to document the special and everyday moments of life without the worry of taking a “bad” photo. If we don’t like how we look, or the lighting is wrong we can easily change, eliminate flaws, or simply delete. For PROJECT B, it is the flaws in the images they connect with—the faded, spotted, glued and taped photographs that have survived the test of time, each with their unique story to tell. Through re-photographing, the duo is able to maintain the surface wear, detail and patina, and by printing them large format the viewer is able to see the image from a different point of view. The result is a captivating look at the richness and mystery behind a photo from the past whose story we don’t know, but speculate about through our own life experiences.
One of the large format pigment prints in Camera Era includes a circa 1920 image of Artoria Gibbons, a circus performer famous for her elaborate tattoos. The image focuses on her back, which showcases an exquisite tattoo of The Last Supper, inked by her husband Charles “Red” Gibbons. This image has the ability to transport the viewer to this era of early 20th century American life—when a tattooed female was considered so taboo that her place in society was as an act in a sideshow.
Another image in the exhibition, Elephant Girl, is a hauntingly beautiful photograph from the 1940s of a little girl in a paper elephant mask. PROJECT B’s large format archival print captures a mixture of distortions, textures and stillness that conjures the work of Diane Arbus and Ralph Eugene Meatyard, yet this photographer is unknown and the mystery shrouding the events leading up to this photo are distant memories from someone else’s past. “We will never know who the photographer was or what was going on. The photo however is both immediately recognizable and deeply mysterious,” Levine adds. “We hope the exhibition will inspire you to look differently at vernacular photography and at the very least take a new look at your own family photos.”
PROJECT B will also be showing a second part of Camera Era by appointment only at The Cherryhurst House, Houston’s soon-to-open creative gathering space where the artists are currently in residence. In addition, the group’s fourth book, sharing its title with this exhibition, will be released in late March.About PROJECT B PROJECT B specializes in a fascinating world: vernacular and anonymous photographs culled from the lively margins of history. Based in San Francisco, the artist duo Barbara Levine and Paige Ramey preserve exceptional vintage photographs from unknown photographers and make them available in limited edition prints for home, retail and commercial interiors. In addition, they offer rare original images and artifacts to collectors. With over 30 years experience in the fields of fine art, photography, folk art and material culture, PROJECT B brings together the best practices of collecting, curating and publishing to pay homage to the mysterious power of the anonymous photograph and its ability to transcend time and enhance the spaces we live in today. Levine’s collection of early vernacular photo albums, considered to be the most comprehensive array of late 19th & early 20th century photography albums in the United States, is in the permanent collection at the International Center of Photography (ICP), and she has authored three books on vintage vernacular photography and unusual collections (all published by Princeton Architectural Press) including Snapshot Chronicles: Inventing the American Photo Album (2006); Around the World: The Grand Tour in Photo Albums (2007) and Finding Frida Khalo (2009), which was featured in the New York times, the Los Angeles Times, and profiled on BBC Radio and NPR. For more information about Project B visit www.projectb.com.