UNKNOWN: Pictures of Strangers explored how artists have used the camera to consider society through the anonymous portrait. Whether the subject posed for the photographer or the picture was “taken” without their knowledge, in these images the people are always unknown. Although it is taboo to stare in public, these pictures invite the viewer to pore over faces and search for meaning. Without knowing the subject, we are free to project our own assumptions on these strangers, and guess the photographer’s intentions. As urbanization crowds us together and the camera becomes ubiquitous, this exhibition explored compelling contemporary issues surrounding anonymity, privacy, voyeurism, and above all, our compulsive curiosity about humanity. Organized by Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell, Co-Founders of Transformer Station.
Acclaimed conceptual artist Ann Hamilton presented a new installation of work from an ongoing project titled O N E E V E R Y O N E. Separating her subjects from the camera with a specialized thermoplastic film, she created anonymous portraits that are in focus only where a hand or arm or cheek actually touches the membrane’s surface, while the rest of the figure falls into an atmospheric shallow focus. Printed on oversized Gampi tissue, these figures, while presenting themselves to be photographed, seem to occupy a more private and interior space. A free publication produced by the artist accompanied the installation.
New York photographer Tim Davis premiered a new three-channel video installation titled Transit Byzantium. Filmed on the streets of Cleveland in 2013, this work is a hypnotic portrait of the city and its people. With his camera affixed to the side of a car, Davis tracked pedestrians as they walked down sidewalks in neighborhoods across the city, capturing the extreme range of diversity and prosperity of the town. Presented life-size on three contiguous screens, Cleveland unfolds behind these walkers, compelling the viewer to follow them on their journeys across the city. This exhibit was made possible by PNC Bank.
Tim Davis writes in the essay published on the occasion of this exhibition: “As the camera studies the gaits of its walkers, it depicts the steady pulse of a city finding its bearings. These videos aren’t Muybridgish motion studies; they are portraits of a city measuring itself with its feet.” Tim Davis is a professor of Photography at Bard College.
With generous support from The George Gund Foundation, Transformer Station will produce a variety of community engagement activities related to Transit Byzantium. “Tim Davis compels us to look at the world in new ways. We hope that Transit Byzantium will reintroduce Clevelanders to our own city through the pleasures of walking,” said Fred Bidwell. During the run of the exhibition, Transformer Station has launched #TransitChallenge, a social-media competition that encourages Clevelanders to get out of their cars and get to know the city’s diverse neighborhoods at eye-level.
Other artists exhibited in Unknown included Barbara Probst, Arne Svenson, Andrew Bush, Doug Rickard, Adam Magyar, Richard Renaldi, Todd Hido, Mrjana Vrbaski, and LäwickMueller. Laura Ruth Bidwell designed an installation of anonymous vernacular photographs from the noted collection of Peter J. Cohen.