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Two new photo shows display unexpected emotional power 

'Identity' at Snap Space and 'Alejandro Almaraz: Portraits of Power' at Southeast Museum of Photography

IDENTITY

Snap Space, 1013 E. Colonial Drive | snaporlando.com | free

ALEJANDRO ALMARAZ: PORTRAITS OF POWER

Southeast Museum of Photography, 1200 W. International Speedway Blvd., Daytona Beach | 407-506-4475 | smponline.org | free

Photography is the perfect medium with which to explore individual and collective identity. Each frame captures a new aspect of human personality, and digital tools give artists the ability to layer these separate frames into a new, revelatory image. Two new exhibitions, at Snap Gallery in Orlando and the Southeast Museum of Photography in Daytona Beach, showcase artists who use this medium to explore the constantly alternating tragedies and fantasies of day-to-day life.

SNAP’s group exhibition, Identity, brings together nine international photographers who depict visual manifestations of urban youth, ethnic differences and subcultures. A highlight of Identity is the work of Zun Lee, a self-taught artist who spent his formative years in cities as different as Berlin, Toronto, Atlanta and Chicago. His series of black-and-white photographs of African-American families challenges conventional stereotypes. Titled Father Figure, the series sees Lee focusing his camera on images of joyful domesticity that refute common prejudices around black men abandoning their families. Lee has a personal stake in this project: At the age of 30, he discovered that his own father was black. From that moment, his work has explored the difficult border territory of multiracial identity.

The Southeast Museum of Photography presents two solo exhibitions this fall. In one, Portraits of Power, the emerging Argentinian-born photographer Alejandro Almaraz layers as many as 40 images to render a collective identity of power. In both “All the Presidents of the United States of America from 1789 to 1889” and “All the Presidents of Argentina from 1826 to 1892,” the artist achieves a profoundly revealing group portrait in a single composite image.

These periods of history are significant in the history of each country: In America, these are the men who established the first democratic republic; in Argentina, the country was creating its new identity free of Spanish sovereignty. As part of the same series, but not on display here, Almaraz combined portraits of the presidents of the 12 leading countries, blending racial type and manner of dress, harmonized by an earth-brown palette reminiscent of 18th-century court portraits.

Also on display is Almaraz’s Places I’ve Never Been Present (2010), a group of images that features masterpieces of sacred architecture. His picture of the Notre-Dame de Paris is composed from hundreds of views of the cathedral culled from the Internet. The images are striking – dramatic and powerful. They are architectural “portraits” of power, designed by their architects as trophies for the city officials that commissioned them.

Both of these exhibitions, in their engagement with real life, show that artists never stop challenging our ability to understand ourselves and others.

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