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, That 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