Fotograf Magazine

gerald slota: found

/langhans galerie praha, 21. 9.–6. 11. 2005/

This was the first time that the Langhans Gallery in Prague held two exhibitions simultaneously in their premises: these were a retrospective of Manuel Álvarez Bravo and a more intimate collection of Gerald Slota entitled ”Found“ (Nalezeno), in the gallery’s basement. What linked the two exhibitions is the Surrealist vision of reality shared by both artists, revealing at the same time the width of approaches that fit under that heading. Whereas Álvarez Bravo merely selects interesting segments of reality, focusing his camera on that which amid quotidian reality shines forth with a glimpse of the otherworldly, Gerald Slota interferes with his print in non-photographic ways, completely changing their message. Sometimes he even uses the same negative several times – each time processing it in such a radically different way that the initial identity of the source material becomes lost. Slota’s playfulness leads him to sometimes translate a finished picture into its inverse form, in terms of black and white.

The ”Found“ collection, Slota’s first presentation in Prague, is based on negatives that the artist purchased at estate sales. To these negatives from family albums of the first half of the twentieth century Slota gives new life in the darkroom. As he developed them, he drew on them with a light pointer, painted on them with emulsion, and cut their edges to resemble the ornamental décor on the edges of ancient 19th century photographs. On the positives he would then draw further with pencil or chalk. The images resulting from these experiments are mysterious and dark, with something unsettling about them. One gets the sense that Slota felt at times in the darkroom as though he were invoking spirits, in the hope that they would reveal the secrets hidden behind the officious poses.

His interference completely shifted the impact of what the pictures must have originally looked like. Not only does he make cut-outs, he also then draws simplified signs and figures and their relationships over the silhouettes (frequent in his work are lines connecting figures, as if suggesting lines of force or energy flowing between them). The twenty photographs on exhibit did not put together any kind of story, as each remained isolated. Slota is comfortable with stylization in the spirit of art brut, with its strong expressiveness. In many of the photographs we can also sense his admiration for B-movies – he deliberately takes the spookiness of the shot so far that it actually becomes comical. He also makes films of this kind.

The darkness and gloominess of Slota’s photographs is thus often illuminated by humor. This is evident, for example, in the picture of three women holding their purses in front of them, where Slota drew the silhouette of another purse, framing their faces. Slota himself in fact is of a merry temperament, as was also evident during his two lectures organized by the Langhans Gallery, where he presented his oeuvre to date. I found particularly notable among Slota’s series his cycle ”Fable“ (Báje), in which he dealt with morbid aspects of fairly tales.

It appears, that here Slota is in tune with the revelations of psychoanalysis (Red Riding Hood as a metaphor of menstruation). He often picks East European folk tales – his fascination with them is inspired by his family’s roots in the Ukraine, from where his ancestors emigrated to the United States. In ”Fable“, as with ”Found“, which it preceded, his approach was one of processing photographs with non-photographic means – but in that case working with photographs he created himself.

Slota’s success in the United States is evidenced by the fact that his work is included in collections such as the Whitney Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the George Eastman House.

In the Langhans Gallery in Prague, next to the retrospective of a legend of photography, Álvarez Bravo, Slota’s exhibition looked more like its modest appendix. But it was certainly an extremely interesting one, and one worthy of attention.