Jamie Harmon’s massive show at Material presents five hundred photographs culled from the last ten years. Gazing across the arrangement of six by nine inch photographs the viewer is confronted with its sheer volume. The rectilinear collection ebbs and flows with subtle shades and bright contrasts. As viewers move from the broad glance to closer inspections, we glimpse quiet moments and witness acts of carefree revelry. While Harmon is a self-taught artist, his work parallels the practice of a number of contemporary artists. We see the grit and grime of the Memphis art and music subcultures just as Nan Goldin’s photographs captured New York City in the eighties and nineties. We see the artist picking apart the subtleties and stereotypes of a culturally rich region as Chris Verene does in his hometown of Galesburg, Illinois. We see the intimate and sometimes strange moments with the artist’s family as we do in Tierney Gearon’s frank photographs of her children. The disparate elements in Jamie Harmon’s Obsessed Life Camera document this vibrant city’s creative culture and the art life he builds with his family.
The three full walls at Material display an odd assortment of individuals in a variety of settings. We spend time with recurring characters: the towheaded boy (Harmon’s son Hopper); the blonde, tattooed, sometimes-sleeping woman (Harmon’s wife and Spillit founder Leah Keys); the tall bearded bespectacled man (Harmon’s long-time friend and film maker Bart Shannon); Dennis Hopper’s doppelganger in his 1955 Cadillac (Tad Pierson and his American Dream Safari); as well as self-portraits of the artist himself, recognizable with his shaved head and thick beard. Juxtaposed as they are, the pictures create a non-linear narrative. Each frame has its own deliberate pace. The pictures of Leah resting on the couch feel slower than the frenetic images bands tearing it up at the Buccaneer. The non-chronological selection of images cuts across time showing these people in varying states: haircuts change, people get older and fatter while kids get taller and grow into their teeth. We see these people coming together, living their lives. We see them in quiet, tender moments on the porch and we see them up too late, drinking at the bar.
A number of Memphis fixtures make cameo appearances. Social columnist Michael Donahue hams it up with Harmon at an art opening. The grandfather of color photography in America, William Eggleston, sits dazed on a couch, holding a drink. Film maker Craig Brewer stares into the camera during his annual Halloween Bash. Musician Harlon T. Bobo croons to an unseen crowd. The Sears Crosstown Building looms like a ziggurat behind a child riding his bike. In these images we see poets and artists dancing with teachers and filmmakers at shows by the city’s extraordinary musicians. Jamie Harmon’s pictures showcase the interconnectedness of our city’s creative class, preserving us all in extraordinary moments.
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