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Próximos: Photos and poems

By Edward Swift

Piñata by Russel Monk

Bellas Artes is mounting an exhibition of photographs by Russell Monk accompanied by the poems of Valerie Mejer, a Mexican-born award-winning poet. As a resident of colonia Montes de Loreto, Russell enlisted the help of his neighbors to act out a photo drama of his own invention, complete with props and masks. In his own words:“I asked my neighbors to be actors in my script even though the script was not written and sometimes not even conceived until the spur of the moment.” Working in this manner he“strove for an intimacy” borne out of the fact that the participants were a constant presence in his life and he in theirs. Along the way he came to realize that he was seeking a kind of metaphor for the Mexico surrounding him.


Photographs by Russell Monk,
Poems by Valerie Mejer Caso
Fri, Apr 25, 7pm
Bellas Artes
Opening at 7pm
Poetry Reading at 7:15 – 8pm
Music Gallitos Group 8- 9pM

He says that he has “tried to photograph the way things felt and not merely looked. For the most part I did not intend to see into people’s eyes rather beyond, or behind them, ultimately, these images are not supposed to be exotic. They feel to me as though they have been sprung from a specific period of time and place in my life and are based on a quotidian reality that surrounds me; an outsider, a stranger in a new land that I suspect I will never fully understand, but which continues to teach me and helps to expand my vision, allowing me to look beyond the mere surface of reality.”

Russell states that he has been influenced by the work of seminal portrait photographers such as Irving Penn and his “Worlds within a small room” and Richard Avedon’s “In the American west” series. Both are photographers who tried to strip things down to their essence photographing their subjects in front of a canvas backdrop or a concrete wall. The modernist Guatemalan photographer Luis Gonzalez Palma is another influence because of his use of symbolism and mythical costumes. In a similar fashion Russell Monk’s new series is an attempt to move beyond the traditional representational portrait  and as he clearly states, “delve into the world of the unknown, the surreal and of metaphors, allusions and unfinished phrases.”

The photographs were taken in the courtyard of Russell Monk’s home. He painted one wall grey and set to work using natural light. He noticed that at a certain time of afternoon the light caressed his subjects in a special way that was both “acute and at the same time kind.”  This location and time of day became his outdoor studio. This series could easily be called “The Other Side of the Wall” because he relied upon his immediate neighbors  with whom he shares a wall as his point of departure. Gradually, however, he began to invite other members of the Colonia to participate in his vision behind the wall. Almost everyone was willing to take part.

Likewise, Valerie Mejer agreed to take part in the exhibition by creating a series of poems inspired by the photographs, several poetry collections.

As she wrote last year in a piece for the Poetry Foundation: “I’m not sure there exists a relationship between poetry and photography beyond the way they approach the impossible. There are two ways here, the photographer and the poet take the same street, but it leads them to two different mountains. We both reach our destination equally disheartened, fatigued and entirely human.”


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