Eastern Oregon Film Festival is pleased to share the visual work of two fantastic artists on the walls at Festival HQ and the box office during the festival weekend October 20-22. Photographer Michael Sell and visiting (returning) artist Erica Hitzman.
In Camera Lucida, author Roland Barthes declared photography the medium of “that-has-been,” immediately relegating the instantaneous nature of the photograph’s subject to the graveyard of the past; while serving as a replicator of reality, photographs also are merely documents of a subject that will soon come to pass. Recently, I have been reflecting on that notion as I create new images, and I have come to accept that my photographs—like all photographs—precede the death of their subjects. This is most true when I am making portraits.
This body of work, begun in 2018, consists of portraits of EOFF filmmakers, fans, and musicians. In most cases, the subjects are people I have only just met, and these intimate images offer a stark contrast to the lively energy and excitement of the festival writ large. Through these images I am examining constructed personality, taxonomy, and how I expose elements of myself—namely, my own fandom and mortality—through images of others.
Susan Sontag declared that, “today, everything exists to end in a photograph.” Photographing strangers presents an audacious predicament in the age of social media and the ubiquity or digital image proliferation: I both assume to know these people through their portraits and my interactions with them, while trying to construct their narrative as a way to distract myself from a representation of—as Barthes declares—our eventual deaths.
Michael Sell was born in Detroit and is currently an Associate Professor of Art at Eastern Oregon University. He is a member of the Society for Photographic Education and the Popular Culture Association, and his artwork and research investigates personality and memory, authorship, and the intricacies of subcultures. His photography has been exhibited throughout Michigan and Oregon, and in select shows in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Europe. He has presented his research at SPE Northwest conferences in Portland and Eugene, as well as Popular Culture Association conferences in Seattle, Chicago, and Washington, DC. In 2014, he was an invited speaker and artist at Hobusepea Galerii in Tallinn, Estonia, for which he received a grant from the Oregon Arts Commission. In fall 2022, he will travel to Buenos Aires for a residency with proyecto áce. Sell is also the chair of the Union County Cultural Coalition, a partner with the Oregon Cultural Trust.
Erica Hitzman was born in Ukiah California in 1993 and grew up in Pendleton Oregon. She moved to La Grande Oregon in 2011 to study at Eastern Oregon University. After her first year, Erica attended the Hochschule der Medien in Stuttgart Germany where she studied Media and Fine Arts for two years. She then returned to La Grande to complete her undergraduate studies where she graduated from Eastern Oregon University in 2016 with a BA in Art. Erica will complete her MFA in painting in the spring of 2022. Her work explores themes of pain, strength, intimacy, and kinship. She has exhibited work in The Nightingale Gallery in La Grande Oregon as well as The Blackfish Gallery in Portland Oregon.
My art begins in journals, words curling unfiltered across the pages. Hidden within these words is a pattern beginning to take form. The ideas most central to my musings repeat themselves page after page spiraling towards a concise concept. Tangled and writhing within these tendrils of thought are the twisted figures I have come to call my creatures. Humanoid forms contorted, bent, and broken to fit the pages they have already outgrown; The physical representation of a boundless soul trapped in its paper prison. The pattern is clear.
The creatures are born on the floor in pools of water that fill with pigment bleeding from the cuts of my brush. I lie with the creatures in the murky puddles as I work, my body caressing the paint I so meticulously placed, smearing it in blooming bruises across the skin of the fabric. The lines I slice into the image grow sharper as time passes and the canvas dries. Jars of paint and coffee cups leave distinct rings wherever they are set around the distorted corpse now taking form. My dirty footprints can be made out clearly at the edges now completely dry. This is no mighty idol shrouded in gold and held with reverence so far beyond those who created it. It is a dirty and broken thing lying naked on the floor beneath me. The kind of god I can see myself in.
As finished paintings, they join their kin in the wrinkled heaps pressed to the edges of my studio floor. It is in these dank corners they wait for the hand that will uplift them from their dejected squalor and suspend them in the mighty temple of a gallery.
Those of us for whom these gods were conceived stand among them in silent recognition of the contorted features we have seen so many times through a thin veil of glass. This time we do not stare back in disgust and hatred, but rather with love and understanding. Each creature shows us the unique power and beauty burning within our broken spirits and violated bodies. The oppressive thunder from so many malicious voices turns to a whisper and is drowned out by lilting waves of laughter that cannot be killed and the pounding of a survivor’s heart.
Erica will be displaying her recent series of “SPINDLY WOMEN” (pictured above) that she created recently for her Graduate show.
Look for their work displayed at HQ (112 Depot Street) through out the festival weekend, both artists will be around to discuss, share, show and participate in the festivities with you.