Justin Maxon at The Third Floor Gallery

This article is the second of three that talks about the current exhibitions at The Third Floor Gallery in Cardiff.

Winter in America: Justin Maxon and Erin Trieb

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Having finished looking at the main exhibition I moved down to the 2nd Floor Gallery to check out the work by Justin Maxon and Erin Trieb.  These photographers had their work displayed together in an exhibition called Winter in America.

‘Save your souls, it’s winter in America’ cried Gil Scott Heron in 1974, against a backdrop of economic decline, social fragmentation, racial tension and a lingering war in Vietnam. Fast forward to contemporary America where the economy is struggling, racism blights many communities and the war in Afghanistan adds a daily toll of misery. …This is the harsh backdrop to the work of Justin Maxon and Erin Trieb, 2010 and 2011 winners of the prestigious FotoVisura grant.

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Maxon’s images in this exhibition were taken from his series When the Spirit Moves.  Maxon chose to investigate life in Chester, Pennsylvania and area where violence is commonplace (there are over 300 unsolved murders since the 1990’s) and inhabitants have to endure poverty and unemployment.

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Many of the images in this series have been created by using multiple exposures in the camera – a successful attempt by Maxon to show the layers of complexity to the poor social situation of his subjects.  The images work much better when seen in the gallery rather than the crude recreations displayed in this blog.

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Each of the images is accompanied by a short piece of descriptive text that helps to explain what the viewer is seeing – this is particularly useful in the case of the multiple exposures where it is not always clear what has been captured.  Even in the single exposure shots the text adds depth and understanding.  In the image below, for example, we learn that the subject was shot in the neck in 2008 whilst driving away from a party.  The bullet was meant for his friend.  As a result of his injuries he was left paralysed.  Maxon has captured him sitting and waiting, with an electric toothbrush in his mouth, for his carer to return to finish brushing his teeth.

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The high contrast, grainy, black and white images reminded me of a series taken by the street photographerBoogie working in New York.  Both are visions of a darker side to society that is often overlooked by the mainstream.  I would like to think that showing this underbelly will bring aid and assistance to communities portrayed but I doubt that anything ever gets done, or can be done in the short term, to help.

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More of Maxon’s work can be found on his website.

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