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Person, Noun, Photograph

Contemporary portraits at Portrait Society

Jan. 26, 2016
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A Person is a Noun” is the current exhibition at Portrait Society Gallery, but when adjectives are applied, things get even more interesting. Mysterious, poetic and badass are a few appropriate ones. This exploration of contemporary portrait photography is complemented by a related exhibition at Dean Jensen Gallery, but each stands strongly on their own. 

Portrait Society narrows its focus to two prominent photographers. Tom Bamberger has long been part of the Milwaukee art community and his reputation extends far beyond this region. His photographs from the 1980s were made with unconventional film and techniques, but as Bamberger puts it, “I just wanted the surface, the details, of the photograph to appear to be a solid, like marble.” He achieved lustrous effects in these large black-and-white images where some passages are in sharp focus, others soft like a charcoal drawing. Bamberger displays compositional flourish as candid images of people in restaurants combine still life, landscape and portraiture into one setting. There are others where his subjects gaze at us in an utterly self-possessed fashion. Untitled (Sue Smoking) presents her as bare-chested and holding a cigarette, an edgy call from a time and place that resonates but no longer exists.

Photographer Lois Bielefeld looks for that which is unnoticed in the most common places. She presents a series called Neighborhood, where she walked with her subjects but purposefully trekked on paths that were not part of habits or familiar territory. The photographs were taken at twilight, that time when the sky glows russet and a visual hush falls over the land. She pictures people of all ages, but her photographs of youth who stand with a mix of defiance and innocence are especially notable.

Portrait Society also hosts an installation by Ted Brusubardis as part of the annual Winter Chapel project. Brusubardis shows Pacel Galvu (Raise Your Head), a video and sound installation featuring Latvian choral music. A pair of conductors float on the wall, accompanied by various musicians and singers. It is a tranquil reflection on culture and identity, and a meditation as the winter season passes by.

Through March 19 at Portrait Society Gallery, 207 E. Buffalo St., fifth floor; and Dean Jensen Gallery, 759 N. Water St.

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