Barbara Levine, Martin Venezky

Barbara Levine and Martin Venezky have collaborated for nearly ten years on various publications and installations. Their most recent project, “We have Been Where You Are Going”, is the sum of their individual and joint aesthetics, resulting in photographs that combine found pictures with abstraction to construct a fresh encounter with the past, and with photography itself.

Levine is an artist who collects vernacular (found) photography and an archivist who curates. Her extensive archive (a.k.a. Project B with Paige Ramey) is the foundation of her artwork, exhibitions, publications and collaborations with other artists. She is dedicated to collecting and preserving vintage vernacular photography and equally fascinated by combining anonymous photos via contemporary artistic methods and technologies to re-imagine the photographic and explore the tension between the familiar, the remembered and the mysterious.

Her series of photographic collages with Martin Venezky based on imaginary horizons scattered across time and place were acknowledged with a 2017 LensCulture Exposure Jurors Award and she regularly organizes exhibitions for Cherryhurst House in Houston, including the exhibition and self -published book, CAMERA ERA (co-authored with Venezky) which was named a 2014 best photobook by photo-eye. As an author, Barbara has had four books published by Princeton Architectural Press including, People Knitting: A Century of Photographs (2016). Her collages and photographs have been acquired by collectors and museums including the International Center of Photography in New York. Trained as a photographer at the San Francisco Art Institute followed by a graduate degree in Museology, Ms. Levine served as deputy director of The Contemporary Jewish Museum, and as exhibitions director at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Martin Venezky is a distinguished graphic designer whose accomplishment are many including a 2001 solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, his monograph, It Is Beautiful…Then Gone, (Princeton Architectural Press), his induction into the esteemed Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI) in 2015 and most recently, the design of the wildly popular Wes Anderson Collection. His design work reflects his focus on process and abstraction and at this point in his career, he has shifted his attention to photography as a medium within which he can unify his interests in abstraction, pictorialism, details, light, and process to make photographic combines and constructions that are both ominous and seductive.

Venezky has an undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College and an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art. He has taught at RISD, CalArts and ArtCenter and, for over 23 years, at California College of the Arts in San Francisco, where he is currently Professor in the Graduate Design Program.

We Have Been Where You Are Going

“We have been where you are going.” is a phrase that captures the blurriness between past and present and is a reminder that whatever we wish for has been sought out by others before us.

The most recent works inspired by this sentiment are our photo collages exploring the horizon line. Martin Venezky and I, Barbara, both collect vernacular photography but the way we respond to our pictures is different and the dialogue between us grounds our work. I recognize the sublime hiding in plain sight and see how pictures of apparent limited value often overflow with tension and beauty. Martin, on the other hand, is partial to the unremarkable. The lack of aesthetics reminds him how quickly the images we cherish can empty themselves of value.

For the photographs we make together, we construct a fresh encounter with the past, and with photography itself, by reorganizing the horizon line to confound time.
We slice apart anonymous photos placing them side by side, combining and recombining to create unexpected juxtapositions. When we discover connections and form relationships, the overwhelming anonymity of any one snapshot gives way to mystery. An inadvertent detail can demand our full attention. As the composition builds we add segments of Martin’s abstract color photographs to connect realism and abstraction to create a challenging immediacy.

The photographic relationship between the pictorial and the abstract is one of the most fundamental understandings of place and time. “Place” is something we carry with us — a summation of our inner memories mapped onto the present landscape as we traverse it. The continuity of the land, though, has its own unbroken time frame and it is much longer and steadier than the interrupted, distracted time we can spend with it. While we look for the universal, we are always tripped up by our own presence.

We don’t know the people who populate our photographs but we can embody their boredom, their anxiety, and the desert sun on the backs of their necks. They chose to capture their moments for unknowable reasons. Martin and I have chosen to yoke them together to conjure future places and infinite possibilities They have been where we are going.

To view more of Barbara and Martin’s work please visit their website.