Versus, curated by Ruben Natal-San Miguel, at Hous Projects, January 7 – March 8, is a lively & large group show of contemporary photography.

The show is structured by pairings of work by photographers which can both complement & clash with one another. 18 photographers are involved. The work is hung salon-style, which facilitates the collage-like enterprise, & also physically blurs distinctions between works. Who is doing what can get a bit confusing, which, in terms of viewing the work, opens it: there is humor, there is earthiness, there is vitality.

I appreciate the eclecticism of the show. There are some inspired pairings: Perhaps the most jarring for me was 2 works by Hank Willis-Thomas paired with a series of portraits by Cara Phillips. The Willis-Thomas work is constructed from appropriated advertising images – images of racial & cultural abjection which in their original contexts are meant to be both all too easily understood as well as all too cute, seductive in their stupidity. Commodity images impress their shallow stereotypes into the only “public” space left to us, which is virtual, in mass media. Willis-Thomas confronts the ideological aspects of these images by his own juxtapositions & captions, which echo & mock the jingo-isms of advertising copy. Willis-Thomas’ work addresses a world of representations which is imposed from without – a corporate cosmology of cheap, numbing cultural distortions.

Cara Phillips’ ultraviolet-lit portraits are of faces, eyes closed, in the blankness of a studio. There is none of the emphasis of sociological details we see in the Willis-Thomas images. The vivid yet eerie lighting accentuates the individuality of the faces, yet “individuality” seems a poor word to emphasize – the subjects float in a clean well-lit space, yet do not give a sense of either being exposed or revealed. The closed eyes of the subjects can recall post-mortem photography,as the tight framing is akin to identity photos, yet the sensuality of the surface of the prints does not seem morbid at all. There is something richly oblique about the work.

The show is dense & presents a kaleidoscopic range of images. The choices are inspired & engaged. I think of things I would have done differently – maybe pairing Eric Ogden’s staged images of Penelope Cruz (looking a bit Diary of a Mad Housewife) with the street portraits of Zoe Strauss. All I mean by that is: the show gave me enough space to enter into such conjectures & it is tribute to the curator & his grand schemes to facilitate such energy in our current cold winter conditions!

Hank Willis-Thomas, It Didn’t Jest Grow By Itse’f

Hank Willis-Thomas, It Didn't Jest Grow By Itse'f

Cara Phillips, Ultraviolet

Cara Phillips, Ultraviolet