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February 2013
Utah's Art Magazine: Published by Artists of Utah
Page 2   

Shalee Cooper Best Foot Forward

Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
A Multi-Distance Relay
Shalee Cooper and Amanda Moore at Kayo Gallery

Within the matte and frame lies an almost blank, gray rectangle. Recognizing the one contrasting spot—a foot, toes downward, entering at the top-left corner—causes this undifferentiated area to pop into focus: a reach of asphalt or concrete stretching away from the camera, into which open space a woman is just stepping. The title helps: “Best Foot Forward.” Given the inauspiciousness of the enterprise, the ironic intention is clear. The photo humorously suggests that it’s a big world, where even the intrepid can only take a one step at a time. Or maybe it means that in our minds we dramatize actions that can rarely live up to the anticipation. It’s hard to know the exact meaning of a punchline, or how it gives rise to humor. But in photo after photo throughout Relay, her two-person show with Amanda Moore at Kayo Gallery, Shalee Cooper combines a gimlet eye with blasé commentary to elicit chortles from those not afraid to laugh in the sacred precincts of art.

One crucial dimension of the gaze is distance. How far a viewer stands from the subject does much to shape not only what is seen, but what will be felt about it. For every subject and purpose, then, there is a perfect viewing distance. Amanda Moore photographs the landscape with a particular and precise agenda, which is perhaps best described as capturing a sense of place: specifically, the American West. To do this, she typically lines up a site or subject squarely, in a straightforward and expository fashion. But the resulting clarity is a formula for visual boredom, a threat that she disarms by her exacting feel for distance. Whether her subject is a single building, like in "Drive-in Movies: Dayton, TN," or "Fuel Stop: Idaho Falls, ID," or a community, like the neighborhood of Birchwood, Tennessee that figures in her "Cliff Dwellers" series, she must find a point of view that is close enough to single out her subject, yet far enough away to convey a subliminal sense of context or locale. In the case of the Cliff Dwellers, that may have meant putting her equipment in a boat and rowing about on the lake until what she needed appeared in her viewfinder. In some powerful images, like "Pebble Rock Wall: Idaho Falls, ID," or "Tidwell’s Fruit Stand: Dayton, TN," while the theme remains architectural, she moves in on telling details. But whatever the distance, the effect is the same: her photographs alchemically transform these man-made objects into portrait subjects that come alive and swell up, as if overcome with pride in themselves, and, despite their factual passivity, seem to preen for the camera.

It should be noted that few people, including a disappointingly small percentage of photographers, fully understand how optics affect the way a camera draws. The subtle variations in distance Moore achieves cannot be made by ‘zooming in’ or cropping a print. Actual distance is stamped indelibly on the perspective rendered by a negative or digital file, no less than the composition created by its visual elements. Compared to Moore, then, Shalee Cooper’s witty social comments may seem to demand less optical precision on her part. And indeed, the tradition of street photography, as practiced by men like Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander, has conditioned viewers to expect a tradeoff between spontaneity and technical polish. But where they sought journalistic or formal results, Cooper’s photos depend on a precise emotional distance: one suitable for communicating the social commentary of a present-day Jane Austen. Had "Paris, 2PM" included a distant view of the Eiffel Tower, the title would have been superfluous at best. Instead, it provokes speculation about the relationship of the couple who caught Cooper’s eye. The next couple, seen "‘Pissing in the Wind," require a very different distance to maintain the correct emotional perspective.

So far as I know, no one has ever made a systematic study of artistic friendships. Last year, Kayo showed Sandy Brunvand and Al Denyer. Like them, Shalee Cooper and Amanda Moore have developed a working relationship that includes the decision to exhibit together. Unlike, say, Picasso and Braque during the heyday of Cubism, all four women’s works can readily be told apart, on both stylistic and technical grounds. Yet in the present case, there are shared sympathies, and like a soprano and a counter-tenor, they sometimes cross over into each other’s territory. Tidwell’s sign—"Sold Out" instead of just Closed—puts Cooper’s punning ambivalence into Moore’s voice, while in "Reaching for the Shot," Moore’s self-conscious relation to photography is delivered with Cooper’s slowly-igniting satirical burn. One would like to think they encourage each other, to push boundaries and bring out virtues they may not see in their own work. I recommend staying tuned.

On the Spot
Camellia Rowland


eI have two beautiful Mark Rothko prints on the wall. I love just about anything from the mid-century modern movement. Rothko and Albers are particular favorites for their use of color and shape. I chose Rothko prints with orange, yellow and pale red hues for my living room. The mantle itself holds two potted plants, an hour glass with orange sand, a few candles and an old Spartus Full Vue camera body.

design element

design elementMy mom has always been an art and humanities lover. She instilled in me early on a great appreciation for art and artistic expression. Our home was full of paintings, prints and coffee table books. She especially loved Homer, Wyeth, Rembrandt, and Pyle. A collection of Carl Larsson pieces hung above our couch for years. They depicted quintessential Swedish family scenes in the soft watercolor and extreme detail of the Arts & Crafts Movement. A picnic by the lake (The Crayfish Season Opens), a bustling breakfast table in the yard (On My Road), and a familial procession in the home (A Day of Celebration). Coming from a large busy family myself, the beauty and content of these paintings really spoke to me. They were romantic. They were classic. When I see them now I feel a strong connection to my younger years, exploring my own form of artistic expression in the home of my parents.


eMy first choice would be Alphonse Mucha. I studied his work in college and have been captivated by him ever since. Though his art was essentially used as a form of advertisement in the early 1900s, it exudes the style, charm and elegance of the century. He focused primarily on painting women, embellishing the overall image with intricate frames, feminine patterns, ornate lettering and fanciful costumes. I’d love to see his take on a modern woman painted with the elaborate and distinct details of Art Nouveau. My second choice—N.C. Wyeth. His unique realist style is stunning.

15 Bytes: About Us
Our editorial contributors

Ehren ClarkEhren Clark studied art history at both the University of Utah and the University of Reading in the UK. He is now a professional writer.

Laura DurhamLaura Durham a Utah native with a BA in Art History from BYU, has worked for the Utah Arts Council as the Visual Arts Coordinator for the past ten years managing the Rio Gallery and coordinating traveling exhibits. She has served as Vice President of the Salt Lake Gallery Association and as Program Director for the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll. She's assistant editor of 15 Bytes as well as managing music editor.

Kelly GreenKelly Green, a Salt Lake native, first discovered photography when her parents gave her a point-n-shoot camera while traveling through Southern Utah. She photographs in black and white and color film with 35mm and medium formats, dipping into the digital world for live music shots or 15 Bytes assignments.

Scotti HillScotti Hill is an art historian based in Salt Lake City Utah. She teaches art history courses at Westminster College, University of Utah and Utah Valley University. In addition to her work in higher education, Scotti has experience in and actively pursues curating and freelance writing.

Laura Allred HurtadoLaura Allred Hurtado is the Global Art Acquisitions Specialist for the LDS Church. She has worked at SFMOMA, BYUMOA and as the Acting Curator of Education at the Utah Museum for Contemporary Art. She received her master's degree in Art History from the University of Utah.

Zoe RodriguezZoë Rodriguez, a native of San Francisco, is a full-time photographer and designer. She is currently working on What I Thought I Saw, a book project that challenges our perceptions of how we see people.

Shawn RossiterShawn Rossiter, a native of Boston, was raised on the East Coast. He has degrees in English, French and Italian Literature. He dropped out of a Masters program in Contemporary Literature to pursue a career as an artist. He founded Artists of Utah in 2001 and is editor of its magazine, 15 Bytes.

Dale ThompsonDale Thompson has a B.A. in Liberal Arts from The Evergreen State College. Her writing career includes work for a local theatre, journalism in Park City, and freelance contributions for various nonprofit organizations. She is currently pursuing a Masters degree at Westminster College, and working as an intern at 15 Bytes.

Sarah ThompsonSarah Thompson is a retired physician and psychiatrist, as well as a writer and a fan of the arts. Her writing has been published in a variety of magazines and textbooks and she is currently working on a short story and a novel.

Geoff WichertGeoff Wichert has degrees in critical writing and creative nonfiction. He writes about art to settle the arguments going on in his head.

15 Bytes
is published monthly by Artists of Utah, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization located in Salt Lake City Utah. The opinions expressed in these articles are those of the contributors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of 15 Bytes or Artists of Utah. Our editions are published monthly on the first Wednesday of the month. Our deadline for submissions is the last Wednesday of the preceding month.

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