One is an alchemist and the other a documentarian, and while the photographs of Connie Imboden and Lorenzo Triburgo couldn’t be more different, what’s common to both Equality Forum artists is their focus on the human condition and their desire to capture truth and beauty.
Like all contemporary portrait photographers, Triburgo, the documentarian, owes much to Cindy Sherman, whose faux-realist costume-drama self-portraits took the genre into a realm it hadn’t been before. Her photographs have always served to reveal a larger truth behind the image.
Like Sherman’s works, Triburgo’s “Transportraits” have an element of tall-tale telling—Paul Bunyan-style. There is truth here but it’s steeped in irony: Each portrait captures a likeness, but taken as a whole, the pictures are actually quite fantastical. And what’s refreshing about “Transportraits” is that it focuses on heroism, not pain.
Triburgo’s 14 archival digital prints at Gallery 1401 in Center City present a group of transgender men, each of whom pose in front of a painted, nature-centric background. The men are captured from the waist up, dressed casually, each in a mock-heroic stance—eyes trained upward and focused on a point in the far distance. No one looks at the camera; no one smiles; and there is no attempt to deliver each person as an individual beyond the surface of hair, piercings, tattoos, ear plugs and clothes. They are one man, every man, every transgender man.
It’s the kitschy backgrounds—the purple mountains majesty, bursting sunsets, glorious deep forests and waterfalls, the pumped-up nature you find in cheesy greeting cards and wallpaper backgrounds for your K-Mart or Sears portrait studio pictures—that really clinch this show. Triburgo successfully pokes fun at the American Dream by combining these transgender heroes with images of nature at its most sublime. Even the titles of the works serve as punchlines in this wry, Steven Colbert-like opus: “Tranquil Dawn (Burton),” “Sunset Aglow (Glenn),” and “Valley Waterfall (Erin).” Triburgo’s point about the truth beneath the picture is as clear as can be. The American Dream is valid for these men even if it doesn’t comply with the red-state vision of heroism.
Harris Fogel, curator of Equality Forum exhibits at University of the Arts for the last nine years, says that Triburgo—himself a transgender man—has a sense of humor about the works. “The works are kitschy, wonderful and vibrant … and the students love it,” Fogel says. He adds that the goal of Equality Forum shows is to showcase the best LGBT artists, some of whom deal with gender issues in their works (Triburgo), and others who don’t (Imboden).
And speaking of Imboden, the artist and longtime teacher at Maryland Institute College has been photographing nude models in the studio for 25 years. Imboden, who follows in the tradition of nude photography that dates back to the camera’s invention, shoots digitally with studio setups that include color gels, strobe lights, mirrors and water. She achieves multi-hued effects, which are both beautiful and slightly scary. In her archival digital prints, figures are set against velvety black backgrounds that suggest the depths of Hades. The figures twist and turn like elves and fauns and move, half in water, half out, or duplicated in part by an unseen mirror. Like characters from a Caravaggio painting, the figures seem to pop out of the inky background and threaten to invade your space. In these poetic works, beauty is fragile and fleeting; life and death are very close partners.
Framed well and printed beautifully, these two shows span the range of what’s being done in contemporary photography. You may respond to one body of work more strongly than the other, but both shows are full of heart.
Lorenzo Triburgo: Transportraits, Through May 1. Lecture by the artist, Wed., April 27, 2:30pm. Reception for the artist, 5-7pm. Gallery 1401, 211 S. Broad St. 215.717.6300. uarts.edu
Connie Imboden: Reflections, Through May 1. Reception for the artist, Wed., April 27, 5-7pm. Sol Mednick Gallery, 211 S. Broad St. 215.717.6300. uarts.edu
Calendar: March 25-April 1
PW's 2015 Philly Spring Guide