Review: Stan Douglas at The Power Plant.

January 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

Ever since the emergence of photography, artists have explored the medium’s ability to portray an objective reality. André Bazin famously attested to the credibility of the photographic image as an extension of our society’s obsession with realism, in turn pitting the inherent subjectivism of painting against photography’s ability to lay bare the truth.

Taking a cue from Bazin, Stan Douglas’s major solo show at The Power Plant Gallery, Entertainment: Selections from Midcentury Studio, seeks to create a sense of the real through the artist’s sleek digital images. However, in doing this Douglas simultaneously strays from the notion that “the camera never lies” by fashioning an entirely fictitious world in which his photographic subjects exist.

Upon entering the gallery it takes a few minutes to grasp the staged nature of Douglas’s photos as they are so accurate in their depiction of midcentury costume, posing and custom that they seem as if they could have been shot in really any North American city during the 1940s-1950s. However, realizing that they are in fact black and white digital silver prints shot in 2010 forces the audience to re-think the illusion.

Douglas’s extreme attention to detail is most notably exemplified by the overwhelming nature of his “Malabar People” series, 16 blown-up prints that identify the key players of The Malabar, a completely fabricated 1950s nightclub. All of its figures, which range from the club’s owner to a female impersonator, are perfectly posed in 1950s garb and look the viewer straight on, inviting them into the mysterious narrative. Both “Hockey Fight, 1951” and “Cricket Pitch, 1951” also present a momentous experience as they capture uncannily realistic images of a very specific, albeit staged, slice of history.

While the Power Plant’s spacing of Douglas’s show should have been altered (some pieces stood alone on white walls, only taking up 1/8th of the available expanse) it is still most definitely worth seeing. Stan Douglas’s photos allow their audience to re-examine midcentury nostalgia through the crisp medium of digital technology all the while calling into question the true reality of what is being presented.

– Stella Melchiori

Entertainment: Selections from Midcentury Studio runs until March 4.

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