III Points kicked off last night, and that means different things for different attendees, depending on what you fancy for the weekend. Some of you will be cruising from barbecue to barbecue; some will be flailing about to the sounds of Miami Horror and XXYYXX; while others still will be ponderously digesting works from the likes of David Lynch and Charles Bradley.
Enter John Sevigny. Sevigny is a 44 year old photographer who has been teaching, writing, shooting, and showing his work around the country and around the world since '98. On his website, he describes himself as "a photographic artist, writer and teacher who is seldom in any one place very long. A German Expressionist who can't paint, an armchair art historian and a lover of the Great Books..." He also happens to hail from South Miami and this Saturday at the Seminole Building in Wynwood will mark the first exhibition Sevigny has ever had in his hometown.
"This is a very strange and long story," began Sevigny when asked about how he became involved with the III Points festival. "I've been trying to show in Miami, where I was actually born, for a number of years. For a long time, the burgeoning art industry there has really wanted nothing to do with me, and it's been real strange because I show in New York, Los Angeles, Mexico City - very big markets."
Lo and behold, after making a connection with one of the folks from Oh Really?! Creative coordinating events for the festival (a contact Sevigny made through the manager of Blowfly), Sevigny was told his exhibition, "Wilderness of Mirrors," would be perfect for the space at the Seminole Building during III Points.
"It's a little bit strange," Sevigny noted, "to get into Miami at all with what I do, I had to get in through music people."
So what does that say about the state of art in the Magic City? Sevigny stated, "Without being too critical, I think, in terms of art, Miami is still a small town learning to walk in big shoes...[but] I don't want to say too much because I haven't been there in eight years..."
As a born-and-raised Miamian who left the city to practice his art, Sevigny has an inside view on South Florida's cultural brain drain.
"Wilderness of Mirrors"
Photo by: John Sevigny
"As sort of an exile," he explained, "I also take the brain-drain from Miami very personally.... The two photographers that I know that have had the most international success, just in terms of geography, would be myself and a guy named Roger Snyder, who's done a lot of work for National Geographic and is also from South Miami - and both of us have left the city. So there definitely is a brain drain factor, and it's kind of sad. When I lived there many years ago, I was always an advocate for Miami developing its own culture and its own artistic language based on its unique blend of influences, and it seems like that hasn't happened yet -- though, again, I don't want to make any assumptions since I haven't been back in so long. It seems like there's still a lot of fetishism for what comes form the outside."
Throughout the interview, Sevigny tempered his statements regarding Miami's cultural growth that way, qualifying his assumptions by noting his long absence. It's a sense of uncertainty that also informs how he's approaching his first show in the city on Saturday, of which he professed, "I have no idea what to expect coming down there, to be honest...."
As for the content of the show, this will be a rather intimate exhibition of the "Wilderness of Mirrors" photo series. Sevigny mentioned that the pictures are not going to be framed; instead, the high-quality prints well be put upon the walls with no ornamentation, leaving nothing but air and ink between the photographic subjects and the viewers.
"This is going to be a group of portraits, primarily from Mexico and Central America," said Sevigny regarding the images in the series. "Most of them are taken in very tense contexts, a lot of stuff with Central American gang circles and things like that.
"I think there's one picture from Miami that I threw in to offer some proof that I am from here," he laughs.
"Wilderness of Mirrors"
Photo by: John Sevigny
"Because I'm not a journalist, but the work has a documentary feel to it, there's sort of a confusion - it's sort of too artsy to be journalism and too journalistic to be art," Sevigny says. "That's a general challenge I often face, but I think that's what gives the work its strength because it's not so easily categorized. It would be very boring for me to be just producing photojournalism that's supposed to tell the story of a day. At the same time, I would [not] want to remove myself from reality so much that it just becomes experiments in form or color and shape - I very much like to have things connected to the real world."
If you're familiar with Sevigny's work, that uncategorized middle ground between visceral documentarian images and arrestingly stunning visual aesthetics may sound familiar. Sevigny's work has a similarity to the works of Sebastião Salgado, the famed Brazilian photographer who has captured some of the most powerful frames of this or any generation and who is regarded as one of the most historically significant photographers since the invention of the medium. Sevigny's work, much like Salgado's, is mature, inspired, and elegant - his photos are moving expressions of human life, in all its pain, its truth, and its often heart-wrenching beauty.
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At the end of the interview, Sevigny offered his explanation of the title and what "Wilderness of Mirrors" means to him: "You know those carnival mirrors that are sort of distorted and weird? That was the first thing I thought about, you know? I take these photographs of people that have been distorted, physically and otherwise, by life, and how much of that is my own set of defects that we all have and how much of it is just taking a picture of something interesting. I think that's, in the most basic sense what the title is about - to look at the photographs as mirrors of me, mirrors of the people who see them, hopefully creating sort of a bridge. I think that's what the title's all about."
John Sevigny's first show in Miami is this Saturday at Imagesound Americas in the Seminole Building in Wynwood (120 NW 25 ST. Suite 203, Miami, FL 33127) from 6:30 to 9:30 PM with free entry, free cocktails, and free hors d'oeuvres. Visit www.imagesound-americas.com.