If we abstain from experiencing a sensory act long enough, we develop a sensitivity to it. And while instinctively I might not lump viewing photography in with the more obvious and visceral -- food, sex, loud music and other luxurious indulgences of that vein -- on Saturday night, I did.
That's when Slideluck Potshow made its first stop in Dallas, bringing hundreds of local photography enthusiasts to the Power Station to commune over a massive pot luck dinner, then collect in the venue's third-floor viewing gallery to watch a multimedia slideshow of selected portfolio images. That's the program's format, regardless of its global location. And it's in that formula where you'll find the show's success.
When people act as a group, energy transmits through it like a current. And there, on that unseasonably perfect evening, with food being shared and anticipation building for the presentation, a long-desired sense of community was palpable. It deepened as the crowd packed into the show's main hub, where seating quickly filled and people sat clustered on the floor or pressed together, standing in corners.
After the lights clicked off, we were given short visual tours of photographic journeys, set to music. Brandon Thibodeaux brought us into the Gothic swamps of Mississippi through his ongoing project When Morning Comes, where beheaded snakes rest serpentine on crunchy dirt roads, and a community's faces simultaneously convey perseverance and deep need. New York-based photo journalist Kirsten Luce pulled us in through the details: confetti tickling the neck of a politician, the textured walls reflecting light behind a terrifying Mexican police force. Danny Fulgencio, an Observer contributor, presented a portrait collection that lifted our hearts. We expanded or contracted based on his subjects' victories or losses; I was reminded how much can be summated about a spirit, based upon an eye's sparkle and the kindly crinkled sun damage of a lower lid.
Being immersed in this 45-minute collection of roughly a dozen photographers felt like an embrace after a long period of abstinence. I felt raw to it and hypersensitive. I started clicking back, wondering when was the last time I saw a great photography show. PDNB is a reliable touchstone for the craft, but aside from its presence, there have been very few. The night was made more rare by the fact that this showing was primarily cultivated out of local artists; most galleries present only the field's biggest names to lure in patrons or add clout.
In an era where anyone can snap a photo, filter it and throw it on a social media site, we've become flooded with images. I spend as much time on Instagram as I do Twitter or Facebook, so life-chronicling via photographic evidence has become a daily byproduct. Still, I see far less photography in galleries than I did 10 years ago. By making the medium so accessible on a cheaper level, these true artists, the ones who capture the captivating and touch on the powerful with grace and intelligence -- their work has been devalued, at a time when it should be most revered.
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Much of what we saw on Saturday stemmed from a highly editorial approach. They were the photos that draw your eyes into a print story on voting rights in distant cities. The jarring visual narratives that say more than most of us are willing to read. They were strong and sensitive and coffee-tabled as a cross-section of photojournalism, which was a treat. Still, I couldn't help but wonder if that gravitation toward publication-esque artwork and away from the old personal photo essay model was indicative of the current financial state of photography.
If fewer galleries are willing to exhibit this medium, we have to assume that fewer people are valuing it through purchase. In turn, our photographers whose passions lie outside the world of photojournalism are cornered, unable to pursue their own stories. Instead, they're working constantly to pay their bills, which in 2012 involves populating the pages of magazines and newspapers with assignments, rather than shooting collections off of grant or gallery dollars.
The thematic trend of Slideluck Potshow could also be attributed to the event's curation, which was handled by some heavy hitters at Newsweek and Harper's, who will almost certainly gravitate towards the editorially rich.
Still, it was a needed jolt, a reminder that this means of expression is powerful, beautiful and underrepresented. I want more nights like Saturday, and am hoping I don't have to wait for the next installment of Slideluck for it to happen.