An Essay By Arthur Ollman, Director
San Diego, California
Ms. Calfee's work always puts me in mind of William Eggleston. A sort of female Eggleston. If Eggleston were not so male he might be more attached to belonging rather than attached to observing. But Ms. Calfee is deeply attached. She is of her place the way that soil is of its place. She is part of a powerful movement in photography, a sort of Southern literary photography which is devoted to belonging to place. It is the legacy of Walker Evans, Eggleston, Bill Christenberry, and the next generation of Birney Imes,, Debbie Caffrey, and Keith Carter. They each are attached to place, to the idiosyncracies of people in small towns, tucked away to nurture their distinctiveness, away from CNN, the Times, and Holiday Inn. They love their small yards, their misbred animals, their square dance trophies, and the stuffed buckhead on the wall with half the nose blown away. Laura Calfee is in there working the light, the combinations, and plucking poetry from the plastic flowers.
I tend not to like fussy pictures, nostalgic froo-froo photographs of sad places with poor victimized people. I know the planet has some ugly, unfortunate patches. I also know, logically, that many of those areas have pockets of beauty, of realization, of composting wisdom, of nearly spiritual understand of how life spins, seen in simple surroundings. It takes a skilled translator to parse out the sweet passages without becoming sticky. This woman is there, she is really there. If you look at these photographs and miss that, you've had too long a day, and need to put your feet up for a spell. She isn't flamboyant. She isn't in anyone's face but she is one of the people who is not steeped in elegant alienation, or dyspepsia. She is elegantly affirmative. And she is a native, about it. This isn't a theory she picked up at art school, she is of it, from it, and in it. I'm not, but she takes me there. I don't know if this sort of life in the small towns is dying, I've read that it is. But it certainly doesn't get covered this way very often. We just don't get in to these places regularly. And when we do, they aren't so exotic that everyone runs for their camera. These are the homes that if you are lucky enough to get into, you may not realize until after you leave that the place had a wonderful wholeness and peace about it, that many people over many generations, wore it in and then wore it out. They sanded it smooth, lovingly and with all the constancy that it takes to stay, for the kids, for the marriage, for the church, for the reputation, for the hell of it, for the memories, for the graves of the family around the corner.
Laura Calfee is a superb photographer doing what comes naturally. That ought to be enough right there. How often have you seen photographs wherein you can smell what was cooked for lunch that afternoon?
"...After all this, it may be surprising that I think the knockout piece of this show is a photograph of a pair of Bosc pears: small scale, printed with a computer, elegantly arranged, artfully colored pale golds against a dark brown background. Laura Calfee's subject is heavy, solid pears, the kind that symbolized virility in medieval paintings and poetry: tough pears. If this had been done in large scale, it would have just been another produce section display. Scale is important. This piece has what the Romans called “gravitas.” "
~Gay Fay: "On Site, On Target at Austin City Lofts" Voices of Art Magazine, April 25, 2006
"...subdued color prints offer intriguing glimpses into domesticity, time, tradition, and the sense of place. Calfee records the interiors of homes where the residents have lived for more than 50 years. The result, haunting and evocative color photographs, possess a monumentality and dignity that derive from the beautiful order and timelessness of these intimate interiors. Injections of humor are also present and recorded (such as the looming steer horns placed over a bedroom bureau, which are also aided by the artist's piquant titles." ~Catherine D. Anspon: “Fotofest in the Galleries: Ten of Note” Public News, March 4, 1998 "Laura Calfee's literary evocation of a ghost ridden, memory filled home depends on light and color to fill the viewer with a sense of palpable unease."
~Barbara Head Millstein, The Brooklyn Museum of Art, Curator of 24/7Waking Breaking Making Center for Photography at Woodstock, April 2000
"The interplay of light and shadow is important in Laura Pickett Calfee's deceptively simple photographs, where everyday things—windows, sinks, mirrors—take on a lyrical quality."
~Elizabeth Wix: “Provocative and Lyrical Meditations” Newsday, March 18, 1994 “...Laura Pickett Calfee's color photographs picture a serene, harmonious world. Diffused light reflecting off well-worn surfaces, whether in rural Texas or urban New York, gives her compositions the timelessness of Shaker interiors.”
~ Helen A. Harrison: “Depicting Passion, in Its Many Guises and Garbs” The New York Times, March 20, 1994
A variety of sites worth noting:
Texas Photographic Society: www.texasphoto. org - super organization with lots of great benefits for members; join and you can link your site
Women and Their Work: www.womenandtheirwork.org - a remarkable exhibit space, join and they'll put your work on their website
Texas' best photography collection in a museum - www.mfah.org - including moi
Houston Center for Photography: www.hcponline.org - another great showcase for photographers
Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center: www.hrc.utexas.edu - they've got the world's first photograph and several of mine
Digital Training and Consultation: www.on-sight.com - Scott Martin can explain it in plain english
Digital Negatives: www.danburkholder.com - he wrote the book
A site showcasing Texas photographers - www.texanareviewgallery.com
A new organization work checking out www.austincenterforphotography.org
the best photo workshops www.sfworkshop.com
porcelain artist - www.gingergeyer.com
painter - www.mjmanford.com
a few fine photographers and their sites (in no particular order):
In Texas they're known as Tennessee Stiff Legs - www.faintinggoat.com