Lisa Elmaleh & Brandon Thibodeaux at Candela Gallery + Books


Lisa Elmaleh, “Matthew Kinman and Moses Nelligan, Clifftop, WV,” 2013, Archival pigment print from unique 8”x10” tintype 20” x 24”

Brandon Thibodeaux from When Morning Comes, “Choo Choo with His Bible, Alligator, MS,” 2012, Archival pigment print 15″ x 15″

Candela Gallery currently features a pair of exhibitions of portraits that explore two different communities. Lisa Elmaleh used a large format tintype camera to make studied portraits of folk musicians in the Appalachian Mountains, while Brandon Thibodeaux photographed  individuals in five rural communities in the northern Mississippi delta. Both photographers have created nostalgic images of the enduring human spirit responding to life’s difficult circumstances.

The alternative and ancient process used by Elmaleh slows down the process of making the portrait into a day long venture as she prepares, exposes, and develops the tintype. The technical and chemical process is arduous and  time-consuming, but the exhibit itself is not of the tintypes, rather  these have been scanned and transformed into archival pigment prints. The tintype itself is a actually a positive image on a metal plate.

Lisa Elmaleh from American Folk “Pat Shields, Danielsville, GA,” 2011, Archival pigment print from unique 8”x10” tintype 16” x 20”

There is a cause and effect impact with these portraits, since the process of long exposure and the rustic nature of the development process requires a portrait in which the subject stands or sits very still and the camera must be placed on a tripod. In addition, the sepia toned quality from the metal plate, which is very prominent in the scanned images, situates these portraits in a bygone era. The photographer has taken a contemporary musician playing a heritage of folk music and overlaid the mystique and romance of the past. These images are quite simply composed, usually with a symmetrical structure, which adds further to their visual stability and general lack of dynamic energy. It is an interesting contradiction given the rapid toe-tapping rhythms of the actual folk music played by the same musicians being depicted. This is a collection of richly toned prints that convey the quiet peace and solitude of a mountain community with none of the challenges that living there might entail. The tintype process is like a color wash that permeates these portraits and pulls them out of this time and pushes them back into a time when we can only remember the good parts.

Lisa Elmaleh from American Folk, “Janice Birchfield, Roan Mountain, TN,” 2013, Archival pigment print from unique 8”x10” tintype 9.5” x 12”

The black and white rich tonal range and square format of Brandon Thibodeaux’s  sensitive portraits of the African American community in the Mississippi delta convey a similar nostalgic quality as Elmaleh portraits, but there is a emotional tension that lies just under the surface.

Brandon Thibodeaux from When Morning Comes, “Switch For My Cousin, Duncan, MS,” 2009, Archival pigment print 22″ x 22″

There is a melancholic quality in many of Thibodeaux’s portraits, as well as expressions of wariness and the subjects seem uneasy.

Brandon Thibodeaux from When Morning Comes, “Boy, Duncan, MS,” 2009, Archival pigment print 15″ x 15″

Even though the composition and framing devices used by the photographer are very stable with centered subject combined with vertical and horizontal lines, the expressions and gestures of the individuals create a psychological tension.

Brandon Thibodeaux from When Morning Comes, “Girl, Duncan, MS,” 2009 Archival pigment print, 15″ x 15″

Brandon Thibodeaux from When Morning Comes, “James ‘Dance Machine’ Watson Jr., Alligator, MS,” 2009 Archival pigment print, 15″ x 15″

Thibodeaux captures the tension of hard living, of perseverance, and the apprehension of survivors. While they are simple and straightforward images with little pretension or use of photographic devices, the primary  expressive tools they employ of person and place, gesture and gaze, are very effective. In contrast to Elmaleh’s community portraits which reveal one perspective, Thibodeaux has created equally timeless portraits with simmering racial and economic tension that aren’t preachy, forced, or blatantly obvious.

Brandon Thibodeaux from When Morning Comes, “Backflip, Duncan, MS,” 2011 Archival pigment print 22″ x 22″

More information is available at candelabooks.com and the exhibit will be up through April 17, 2014.

Follow these links to learn more about Brandon Thibodeaux and Lisa Elmaleh.

© Douglas Barkey 2014

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About Douglas Barkey

Director of Teaching and Learning Effectiveness The Art Institutes
This entry was posted in Creativity and Photography, Fine Art Photography, Photographic Technology, Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Lisa Elmaleh & Brandon Thibodeaux at Candela Gallery + Books

  1. Brandie says:

    I think it’s interesting how both photographers place the subjects directly in the middle of the frame. Even though they are in the middle of the frame though I am drawn in by their expressions, which are all very natural and serious expressions. I think that this is a big reason that these photographs are effective in telling you about their present circumstances. I really love the black and white and square photographs of Brandon Thibodeaux’s.

    In a gallery these images would all flow nicely together. The photograph “Girl, Duncan, MS” and “James ‘Dance Machine’ Watson Jr., Alligator, MS” both really stand out to me because of the contrast with highlights on the person in the photograph and the more shadowed background. The one of James though is probably the most powerful of these photographs to me though. The expression on his face really has me wonder what he is thinking. His body language is also very interesting. I noticed his right hand is made into a fist. These definitely make me think about my photographs and to remember that not every photo has to be of someone smiling and that expressions can really make the photograph.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Brandie

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