SURFACE TREATMENT: Photography exhibition reflects the aesthetic of relaxed spontaneity

BY NANCY MOYER

While walking through the Lobby Gallery, visitors to McAllen’s Public Library will find themselves surrounded by oversized photographic portraits of local folk. “David Freeman’s Casual Regionalism” exhibition is on display in the Lobby Gallery for the fall art season. Twenty-four portraits on vinyl represent Freeman’s friends, students and acquaintances, many of them from South Texas College where he teaches digital photography. Three different locations were employed for his photographs: STC, his own studio, and the homes of a few subjects.

The frontal portraits show the face and shoulders of the sitters, and actively avoid the artifice that is often a part of the formal photo shoot. These are portraits that embrace the opposite of cultural vanity that is common in formal portraits striving to impress for posterity.

Freeman says he walked up to his subjects and said, “C’mon, let me take a picture right now.”

They were intrigued and surprised; the invitation was very unexpected, and that became the common denominator for the whole idea of casual regionalism: the element of surprise.

“I knew I was catching them when they didn’t have time to get gussied up,” he added. “My photographs capture a time when people are relaxed and spontaneous. These images more honestly tell of the passion, warmth and well-being I see within each person and represent what I care about; I’m not interested in a shallow conceit.”

Freeman’s subjects were instructed not to indulge in “snapshot smiles,” so there is a somewhat serious demeanor across the exhibit. This demeanor is interrupted by a few friends of Freeman’s, who were very relaxed, such as “Carl” and “Mark.” By denying the mask of the posed “snapshot”, the sitter truly exposes a more honest reality of themselves. Freeman says that several people turned down his invitation to pose informally. And interestingly, these simple images do tell us quite a bit about each person. As the faces look directly out of their 2-dimensional confinement, the viewer sees into the person represented. For instance, two portraits express contrasting psychological personas: “Phyllis, with a slightly diagonal head-tilt and undetermined smile, seems intense and unpredictable, her hair is raw energy and her eyes pierce the meek, while “Ed” is pure empathy and allows the viewer to open up to him. Another portrait, “Grace”, seems tense and preoccupied.

Freeman wants the viewer to focus on the eyes of the subject and then meander around the rest of the face, believing the eyes to be the most important facial feature.

“It’s that stupid cliché,” he said, “eyes are the windows to the soul, but I feel like the eyes are the central focus area.”

However, as important as Freeman considers the eyes as focal points, he used different aperture settings across this collection.

“The socket of the eye, that’s the sharpest area of focus,” he explained. “The tip of the nose, the ears, and everything behind the eyes is in softer focus, making the eyes really stand out, but some photographs show the whole face focused in sharp detail.”

“Patty” has an incredibly short depth of field; “Richard” demonstrates a semi-depth of field, and “Nancy” shows a deep field of focus.

“Casual Regionalism” is a relaxing place to spend some time. Go to the Lobby Gallery and get to know these people who Freeman photographed so affectionately; they have become their own community.

Nancy Moyer, Professor Emerita of Art, UTRGV, is an art critic for The Monitor. She may be reached at nmoyer@rgv.rr.com.

“David Freeman’s casual regionalism photos that embrace the opposite of cultural vanity”

Where: Lobby Gallery, McAllen Public Library, Nolana at 23rd Street

When: Through Nov. 30

Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 1 to 9 p.m. Sunday

Contact: (956) 681-3000