Tag Archives: Chicago Photographer

Alyssa Miserendino: Our World Insideout

This week, I am sharing a few of photographers that I met at the Filter Photo Festival in Chicago….

I am of the belief that some of our most profound work comes from things we know. This is certainly the case with Chicago photographer, Alyssa Miserendino.  Alyssa is working on a multi-layered, global project that started with circumstances in her own life–the abandonment of her father, and eventually the collapse and loss of the family home.  Her project, Our World Insideout, begins with familiar territory and moves to Brazil, New Orleans, and Chicago.  Alyssa is about to open an exhibition of this work on December 6th at the Bette Cerf Hill Gallery in Chicago (funding provided by the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation).  The work will continue on to the Elmhurst Art Museum for an exhibition that runs from January 18th – mid April.
From a fellowship award from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, to an investigative journalism grant from the Driehaus Foundation, Alyssa continues to pursue personal bodies of work that assemble the ideas of home, memory & our relationships to one another emotionally. This work, in addition to her commercial work, has been widely exhibited and well published.

Our World Insideout
Our World Insideout was born from my young home life that was raw, violent & steeped in displacement and abandonment. The catalyst of this life-long project started with documenting my own abandoned home in 2004, from the inside. Then in 2009, during the economic crash, I found a relation to the familiar emotion of loss & I started documenting other’s homes. I created the imagery with the hope that this project will incite a visual, global dialog concerning the used & unused resources; thus inspiring change. It touches on the many levels of humanity & one of the most sacred places for us : home. Insideout is one word – there is no delineation between what happens behind closed doors & what is communicated to the outside world.

Images from the family home

Our World Insideout: Brazil (2010) 

I’ve been to properties with notices posted since 1998, walked though gates with layers
of cobwebs, & entered abandoned homes experiencing what is left behind – the day a
family & children were evicted, the day the owners ran out of funds to complete
construction, the day the owner died & the family neglected to clear the home of the
deceased’s belongings. I’ve captured images of a home 15 years forgotten & now
surrounded by mansions; held my breath in a house that is a historical site, splattered with
feces; & opened a never-ending sea of unlocked doors. However, I have also witnessed
what others have built with their own hands, resourced from other people’s garbage. I’ve
met people & listened to their stories about how they ended up taking over an abandoned
home; picked up a nomad with her fishing pole to visit her train station house & met a
woman who built her home around the base of a tree, from found objects. 

Our World Insideout: New Orleans

Our World Insideout: Chicago before & after (2012)

What you see here is Chicago from 2009 and Chicago from 2012.  Each Diptych has their own story, like each one of us.  Here is where another nature is being formed, and hopefully a dialogue for acknowledgements and change – a chance to grow in this world.

Insideout is one word–There is no delineation between what happens being closed doors, and what is communicated to the outside world.

David Weinberg

When I was in Chicago this fall for the Filter Photo Festival, I attended the opening of the festival’s juried show, Light, that was held at the David Weinberg Gallery. Jurored by Matthew Avignone and David Weinberg, it was a terrific exhibition of contemporary image makers and it was a treat to meet many of the artists.  During the course of the evening, I found myself in David’s office and asked him about the exquisite images hanging on the walls.  He told me that they were his photographs, and that he was not only a gallery owner, but a photographer himself.

image from Mr. Wild’s Garden

Chicago photographer, David Weinberg, didn’t start off the way most photographers do. David was a business man for 35 years working for Fel-Pro, Inc., the Skokie, Illinois-based
gasket manufacturing company his family ran for generations. The company was famous
for its generous benefits and even-handed treatment of employees and was even
recognized as one of the top ten companies to work for in the United States. David
worked his way up to co-Chair of Fel-Pro, taught his personnel methods to graduate
students at the University of Illinois, and lectured at numerous universities and
government agencies. Today the same methods inform his collaborative approach to
working with his subjects.

Although David only made the switch to photography 10 years ago, art has always been a
part of his life with a mother as a successful commercial potter and a father who maintained a private art collection and ran a California-based sculpture center and
art gallery. David
actively exhibits his work and has shown in numerous galleries and museums and won
national photography awards over the last decade.  I am sharing two of his series, Mr. Wild’s Garden and Spent.

Mr. Wild’s Garden

When I was a child, my family lived next door to a mysterious, 90-something year-old man named Mr. Wild. Although I was only 6 years old at the time, I still vividly remember our neighbor’s dilapidated house and yard of towering, treehigh weeds. I remember wondering what an adventure it would be to play in Mr. Wild’s weeds and whether he’d try to “get me” if I did.

A bit later in life, upon reflection, I realized that Mr. Wild was entirely isolated from the community and that no one had ever seen him speak with another person. And looking back now, at the age of 66, despite the persistent memory of this man, I still know next to nothing about him.

It is my enduring memory of this man, coupled with my curiosity, that inspired my photographic series, Mr. Wild’s Garden. In the series I explore who he may have been by looking at the world through his eyes. My attempt to see the world through his eyes only adds more questions, while widening the possibilities and deepening the mystery of just who Mr. Wild was.


Energy and strength have a capacity, an upper
limit. When we reach our maximum effort at the end of our struggle, we are
spent. Weary in action and conjecture, we physically endure and prevail thru
the stress of life. For years I have observed these contorted expressions
surface while lifting weights in front of a mirror. Our faces, the organs of
expression reveal themselves like a whistling teapot under pressure. Kinetic
energy builds to a climax through the body to form the grimace of strain. I am
fascinated with these expressive moments because they are both telling and

 The series Spent is about the tipping point where
we tangibly exhaust ourselves through enormous effort and the daily grind
forward toward complete depletion. I am interested in the differences exhibited
by different people. These portraits demonstrate a variety of uniquely
evocative individuals. From the youth who disguise their vulnerability, to the
manual workers exhausted by continual labor and life in general, the expression
is the betrayer of the inner struggle.

Matt Austin

Chicago photographer/artist, Matt Austin, has created a body of work, WAKE, that is a narrative about tragic moments in his family’s life.  This project is about to become part of an experiment in the sharing of work.
Matt received the Illinois Artist Council Grant to produce an edition of 10 of the WAKE books. Each copy of WAKE is made up of a handmade clamshell box that houses four hardcover books and a ledger. On October 27, the edition will be distributed to ten people familiar to Matt, but don’t personally know one other. Their responsibility will be to read the book, sign the ledger like a library card, and register their book number location by zip code on a corresponding website.The reader will then decide who receives their copy of the book next, pass it on to the next person, and so on. The website will provide a visual for where each of the 10 books are in the world as well as a waiting list platform for requesting a book to be sent to you.

Matt received his BFA in Photography from Columbia College Chicago  and is teaching for the Museum of Contemporary Photography and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Matt is the co-founder of the open digital lab LATITUDE (be sure to explore this amazing site), staff member of ACRE Artist Residency, co-founder of the art installation project known as TAIST, and a member of the pedagogical experiment The Mountain was a Gift. His photographs have been exhibited widely, including exhibitions at the John Michael Kohler Art Center, Catherine Edelman Gallery, NEXT: Invitational Exhibition of Emerging Art, the MDW Art Fair, including solo exhibitions at Johalla Projects and the University of Notre Dame. Soon, he will be re-releasing the second edition of “/” with EJ Hill for their two-person exhibition SLOW DANCE at RAID Projects in L.A. this November.

WAKE is currently on exhibition at the John Michael Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan, WI in the show The Kids Are All Right.  The exhibition runs through January where it will then travel to the Weatherspoon Art Museum in Greensboro, NC and the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, MA throughout 2013.

WAKE is a photographic and literary narrative that presents my account of several tragic moments regarding my family over the past 4 years. The story begins with e-mails between my dad and I exchanged over the days that followed a violent eviction from his apartment and my simultaneous arrival in Ireland to study abroad. 

In the following chapters, WAKE gives an account of three family deaths over a short few months, drawing comparisons between economic failure and physical mortality. While providing one of many stories of a family’s experience with economic devastation, the book poses an optimistic perspective of learned appreciation through difficulty.

Re Runs: Sarah Hadley

I’m stepping away from Lenscratch this week to work on a new personal website and prepare for upcoming photo activities…wanted to reintroduce you to some wonderful photographers featured several years ago, today with a post on Sarah Hadley that ran in 2009. Sarah is now the Director of the Filter Photo Festival in Chicago, coming up in October.

Chicago photographer, Sarah Hadley, has packed her suitcases and moved to Los Angeles, and the left coast is lucky to have her. Sarah works both as a fine art and editorial photographer, and manages to have a piled-high plate of awards, grants, and exhibitions. Much of Sarah’s fine art work has a reference to dreams, whether it be imagery of the space where we dream the most in Unconscious Terrain, or dreamy interpretations of places around the world.

I think every photographer talks about the magic of seeing that first image appear in a tray of developer and of being hooked for life. I believe a good photograph asks more questions than it answers, and my photography is a way for me to constantly challenge myself to really look at the world around me.

Images from Unconscious Terrain

There is something intangible about the best photographs, something that reminds us of the moment between wake and sleep, and of the beauty that we see and feel but cannot describe, and of our own mortality. These are the kinds of images I try to make.

Images from Venetian Dreams

Critical Mass: Bill Vaccaro

Looking at portfolios from Critical Mass 2011…

Chicago photographer, Bill Vaccaro, has been a long time fan of the blur, using “toy cameras, medium format view cameras, and obscure (and not so obscure) film cameras modified with homemade shift-tilt lenses culled from cheap loupes, crappy magnifying glasses, and battered enlarging lenses, bellows torn from old Polaroid cameras, used extension tubes, and gobs of black gaffers tape.” But his series for Critical Mass this year, is in sharp focus. His project, Boomtown, appropriately uses color and place to celebrate the American tradition of Fireworks and 4th of July.

Born in Buffalo, New York, Bill’s work has been featured in a number of publications in print and online. He has exhibited across the country. He holds bachelor and masters degrees from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Boomtown: I admit it. I love fireworks. I love to hear the oohs and aahs of a crowd as they sit on their blankets and lawn chairs looking skyward at things that go flash and boom on a warm summer 4th of July evening.

My enthusiasm for fireworks goes back to the time my parents first took me to a Independence Day celebration in Buffalo, New York. It became a regular summertime ritual and only fueled my desire to experience them firsthand. That came one summer in the mid 60s when a grammar school buddy managed to get his hands on some (now illegal) cherry bombs and M-80s. A bunch of us went through the neighborhood with this arsenal. stopping briefly to light them and drop them into sewers and down the exhaust pipes of Johnny-on-the-Spots. We’d then run like hell to witness (from a safe distance) a blinding flash, a thunderous bang and an enormous plume of smoke. We fortunately never got caught and managed to make it home with our digits still intact.

I’ve never forgotten the danger, thrill and the rush of that night to this day.

To pay tribute that night, I began to document impromptu fireworks celebrations in my neighborhood around Independence Day over the years. This was later expanded to include fireworks stores in eleven states east of the Mississippi, especially those temporary tents and stands that suddenly sprout up out of nowhere during the selling season before the 4th of July and show up in the parking lots of shopping malls, at gas stations or fields that, weeks before, were empty.

Bill O’Donnell

Some weeks ago, I professed my love of all things miniature on Lenscratch, and I was delighted when photographer Dawn Roe, offered up the name of someone I might find of interest, Bill O’Donnell . For his series, Many Rooms, Bill has taken a long forgotten doll house and changed it into a stage for his exploration of being in the world.

A Chicago photographer, Bill was born in Providence, RI and has traversed the country persuing his photographic goals after initially exploring painting and graphic design. He earned his MFA from The School of The Art Institute of Chicago and taught at Loyola University Chicago and the School of the Art Institute before joining the faculty of Illinois State University in 2001 where he is an Associate Professor in Photography.

The National Endowment for the Arts has recognized his work with a Regional Fellowship, and the Illinois Arts Council has awarded him two Artists Fellowships and he has had numerous exhibitions including the Midwest Photographers Project Collection at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, The Chicago Project at the Catherine Edelman Gallery, The Seattle Portable Works Collection and the NEA Visual Artists Fellowship Archive. Solo exhibitions include shows at the historic Water Tower Gallery in Chicago, the Chicago Cultural Center and SOHO PHOTO GALLERY in New York.

MANY ROOMS: These pictures are shot in a rusting tin dollhouse. This home serves as a generic domestic setting. For my purposes, it’s also a quirky enough stage-set to play the role of a heavenly home, the endpoint of life’s journey in any promise of an afterlife. I also find it to be a fitting laboratory for the working out of a host of problems inherent in a number of human ideals.

Primarily, inspired by three formal concerns of the Western philosophical tradition, Knowledge, Conduct and Governance, the pictures circle around these essential questions:

How do we know what we know?
How might one live a virtuous life?
How is one related to one’s society?

The cycle of acquisition, loss and regaining of knowledge can range from the maturity and death of a wise teacher to the building and destruction of a great library. In my pictures, piles of dust, ash and books suggest the frail, ephemeral nature of both the human body and any treasury of accumulated wisdom.

The utility of knowledge and wisdom is represented in Greek mythology and philosophy as a golden thread; the one that leads Theseus safely back from the depths of the Minotaur’s labyrinth is repeated as Plato’s golden cord, a path of Reason that guides one safely through the maze of appetite and emotions. A golden cord weaves its way throughout the dollhouse in this work.

The ideal world of geometric forms has been used for centuries to suggest the existence of other, equally immutable truths. Humble, clunky, but implicitly transcendent geometric forms appear in some of these pictures.

Finally, the tension between individual liberty and social responsibility is often viewed as a threshold to be honored or crossed. In many images, I use windows and doors, the liminal membranes between public and private, to address questions of tension between society and the individual.