Student Review: “About Face”, A Real Review

by Shane Phillips
(PHOT51 Beginning Photography) Student

Near the end of San Francisco at the Embarcadero, tucked away behind an unsuspecting building lies a gallery that even the most casual of photography admirers would find fascinating; Pier 24 houses an immense amount of rare, captivating, and unique photographs that spot its’ mild gray walls. This private collection gives glimpses into the work of some of the most well-known photographers in the history of the art, and as mentioned, no matter what level of interest you have in this medium, it is a wonderful experience which whispers to you that you should come back and visit again.

Inside the gallery, the lights are dimmed, the mood is peaceful and professional. The walls are either gray or white, which allow for the photographs to pop out no matter what their size, and grab at your attention. Often, you find yourself completely free of time, not wondering how long you’ve been looking at a photo, or when you should move on to the next. The layout of the gallery is free-flowing and spacious, which allows you to wander in the quiet, admiring the works laid in front of you.

A lovely thing about Pier 24 is that in the gallery, there are no words underneath the works like a museum. Personally, I felt this was quaint and a pleasant experience. This lets you ask the well versed staff any questions you may have, which makes your visit more personal. Secondly, it lets you interpret each piece comfortably inside of your head without the interference of what somebody else thinks the work means. Lastly, while I may have been with my instructor who went over each piece in detail, I did have time to meander around the gallery and its modern layout and experience the very things I am mentioning. There is no wrong way to waltz inside of Pier 24, because no matter how you dance around the photographs, what you visualize from one room to the next will be different.

Moments ago, I referred to how the layout of Pier 24 was free-flowing and modernistic. I painted with words how the gallery feels inside and what it looks like to match. But let me give you a more technical readout on this battle station, or rather the gallery. One of the best parts of Pier 24 is that there are no “theme” rooms; there are no guidelines to how you must walk around the pieces of art. Of course, each area that you go into is either mostly one artist or a few at maximum, but they do not detract from another. The areas are balanced and they do not overwhelm your sense. The mood that you have walking in can shift from one picture to the next, just solely based on how you see it. Specifically speaking, the path that I took when moving around Pier 24 took me in front of pictures by Carla Emil and Rich Silverstein and the grouping of them were very real to me. They seemed to shout at me, but from a distance. They popped out and just made me “feel”, which is very subjective. However, as I moved away from those images which I felt were more dramatic, I stumbled into a room full of satire. They were all outtakes captured by Larry Sultan and my mood changed once again. These images, completely different than the last set, had celebrities in what seemed like their

© Larry Sultan

natural environment but there were key details in the busy photographs that gave away what I felt the intent was. For example, a regal, older white woman standing in front of a window with a view into the yard, surrounded by a deep brown wall; she stands poised in a ravishing green gown, sequined with jewels and her faded blonde hair done up. She is in the center of the photo and your eyes are immediately drawn to her from the leading edge of a long banquet table on the right side of the frame. But next to that table is the maid doing her job around the house, doing some sort of busy work. Everything about the picture at first seems to be so posed and proper, but from the glitz and the grandiose front put up, you get a glimpse into the difference of class between two people who share the same manner. The great thing about it is that I may see this picture one way, but when you look at it you could interpret it another. Guess that means you should come down and see it for yourself.

Progressing down the halls and bends of the gallery, there I stood before a massive print done by Richard Avedon. This imposing black and white head shot of the man with a pointed goatee was intimidating and made me feel scared. The simplicity of the shot, the detail of the print and the figure staring down at you only made you want to gaze back at him, but run away at the same time. I found myself fascinated by this piece, and it is truly something to witness. The photograph did not mean anything to me. It did not send me a message and I did not gain anything from it. But I found that refreshing. I found it more than interesting because more often than not inside of a gallery, when you look at a work, you always try to find meaning. This time, nothing jumped out at me. The photo was just that; a photograph. A very well done photograph of a man and nothing more, but the sheer size of it says all it needs too. I cannot accurately express the feeling you get when you stand underneath his eyes which stare a hole through you behind his glasses. Something absolutely necessary to see in person is how I would put it.

Normally, I might review a particular photograph from the gallery at this point. I might describe how a particular photograph makes me sentimental and think about my grandfather. Or perhaps I might say something like this photo is a powerful stance towards the artists view on how immigrants are treated. Instead however, I would like to speak about the entire gallery as a whole. I am an amateur photographer who has at most a basic or average interest in museums and galleries. Not very often do I find myself impressed, entertained, and comfortable in a setting like a gallery. But at Pier 24 I was just that. I was intrigued, enthused and felt right at home. This is titled “A Real Review” because it is just that. I speak to you as somebody who normally may just overlook a visit to a place such as Pier 24. But the gallery was a balanced piece of art on its own. The sanctity of the quiet that looms above you, the solitude of your own thoughts and how they reflect off of each individual piece and grouping, the free-flowing nature of the concrete maze makes you feel so… at ease. This place lets you actually appreciate each piece of photography without feeling like you are just standing behind a line and looking around, hoping to impress somebody with what you interpret from the work. I honestly feel that Pier 24’s exhibit is wonderful, and I would go there again without hesitation. It was a powerful gallery, it was an inspirational gallery, and it was an overall pleasant visit. I definitely was surprised and happy with my visit to Pier 24 and I strongly encourage you to schedule a visit down to this exhibition. Trust me on this one, I thought I wouldn’t care but I really did. That’s a real review.

About Face at Pier 24 is on view May 15, 2012 – February 28, 2013
Admission is free but advanced online reservations are required


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