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Snap

Photographer Christian Patterson catches music on film.

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³So what¹s your best picture?² asks Peter Fleissig. Dressed in grubby black work clothes, the curator trips lightly across the floor of the north gallery of Power House, trying to take in three walls at a glance. He shuffles images, alternating interiors and exteriors. ³That¹s a strong wall,² he says, both arms gesturing eastward. ³And we¹ve got a car in this corner, and a car in this one. I think that¹s very nice.²

Meanwhile, Christian Patterson, an emerging photographer recognized in 2004 by PDN Magazine as one of 30 international artists to watch, stands in the middle of the gallery.

³I don¹t know,² he says to Fleissig. ³I don¹t think I have a best picture. I think of them as being interchangeable.²

The artist believes that each individual artwork, his response to the sounds and rhythms of Memphis, is representative of a specific emotion. He¹s certain that the works mean something when grouped together, but he can¹t say what exactly. There is no specific narrative, and Patterson seems entirely unconcerned with their order of appearance. ³I can¹t look at my pictures and say, ŒThat one¹s got a circle in it and ‹ oh look ‹ that one¹s got a circle in it too.¹ I guess I¹m more democratic in the way I choose my images.²

Patterson, a native Midwesterner, became serious about photography three years ago while living in Brooklyn. ³I would go out and explore New York,² he says. ³And I would take my camera.² He started hanging his photographs in his apartment and trying to figure out why some were better than others. And then one day, quite by accident, Patterson discovered a collection of images by Memphis¹ most renowned visual artist, William Eggleston, in St. Mark¹s Bookstore. The pictures spoke to Patterson, and he started making calls to Memphis, hoping to connect with Eggleston.

³It happened so fast,² Patterson says. ³I can¹t really remember if it was six months or three months. But [shortly after contacting Eggleston] I was on my way to Memphis.²

Patterson went to work on the Eggleston archives, doing conservation work, building databases, and occasionally going out to shoot with Eggleston.

Patterson¹s Power House show reflects his response to the music and moods of Memphis and the Mid-South. Except for an obligatory homage to Elvis and a rather straightforward portrait of Skateland, he¹s avoided Memphis¹ most obvious surfaces and followed in the footsteps of his mentor. Here the streamers at a used-car lot on Summer Avenue evoke the spirit of motion found in works by Alexander Calder. American kitsch ‹ jukeboxes, neon signs, hairdos, and bits of cultural detritus ‹ have been transformed into sentimental landscapes. Sound Affects, the print from which the show takes its name, is a still-life image of a light bulb, some wire, and a rock-and-roll poster on a shocking pink wall. It¹s a clear homage to The Red Ceiling, Eggleston¹s famous dye-transfer print that captured the imagination of the New York art world in 1976 and never let go.

Revelation 21:8 is a picture of a white stove with all four gas burners going full blast. You don¹t have to know the biblical verse to respond to the image, but it helps: ³The fearful, and unbelieving, and abominable murderers, whoremongers, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.²

In addition to the collection of prints in the north gallery, Patterson is projecting additional images in Power House¹s media room. A neon sign sets the tone, and a jukebox stocked entirely with music from Memphis ‹ some selections obvious, some obscure ‹ provides the soundtrack.

Patterson is convinced that one of the biggest mistakes new photographers make is getting too close to their subjects. ³Or they rely on gimmicks like a fisheye lens, a plastic camera, or infrared film,² he says. ³I prefer a more transparent approach. I like to consider a whole scene ‹ to include the most physical space you can accomplish successfully.²

It¹s this macroperspective that makes Patterson¹s work stand out in an overwhelming space that causes even excellent artwork to vanish without a trace. No matter how you hang it, it¹s quite an accomplishment for an artist so close to the beginning of his career. n

³Sound Affects² through July 31st at Power House

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