More than a Pretty Picture

Photo by Andrea Hutchinson.

Celebrating A Tradition of Fashion Photography with The Voice of Louisville and the 2019 Photo Biennial

By Laura Ross

“Photography is the most ubiquitous art form there is today,” mused Paul Paletti, Louisville attorney, founder of the Paul Paletti Gallery and co-founder of Louisville’s Photo Biennial. “Everyone has an iPhone, and they are their own best photographer, but when does it become art?  It doesn’t matter what you’re photographing if you bring an artistic vision to all the skills you use. Then, it can be art.”

Photography is lens-based art, says Paletti. That is more than evident in the hundreds of images that are featured in the 2019 Photo Biennial, currently on show throughout the state.

The Louisville Photo Biennial, now in its 20th year, explores the evolution of photography as art and is an oasis of visual storytelling. Sixty-four galleries, museums, universities and other creative outlets showcase the photography in special exhibitions in Kentucky and southern Indiana. The 2019 iteration opened on Sept. 20 and will officially close after a reception at Art Sanctuary, located at 1433 South Shelby St., on Nov. 8 But that doesn’t herald the end of the show completely.

Photos by Andrea Hutchinson.

Photo by Clay Cook.

“There are a broad number of shows that will continue through November and even to the end of the year,” Paletti said. “The website (louisvillephotobiennial.com) has a full calendar listing of all the venues, events and workshops.”

One of the final shows to open during the run of the Biennial is “Celebrating A Tradition of Fashion Photography,” featuring fashion photography from The Voice of Louisville. The exhibition is hosted by Art Sanctuary and will remain open until early December.

The show at Art Sanctuary comes on the heels of “Ali: Beyond the World’s Stage: An exhibition of Photography from the Courier-Journal,” which closed on Oct. 27. Photographs on display at The Voice of Louisville retrospective include archival and new works by some of Louisville’s most notable fashion photographers, including Andrea Hutchinson, Antonio Pantoja, Clay Cook, Steve Squall, Jessica Budnick and more.

“Everyone is excited about it,” said Britany Baker, The Voice of Louisville art director, who, along with her husband Frankie Steele, serves as a board member of Art Sanctuary and organizer of the exhibit. “This show connects media photographers with the art community, which is a conversation that needs to happen in Louisville. The Photo Biennial pulls together all types of people who I’d love to see in one room.”

Baker’s enthusiasm for hosting two exhibitions at Art Sanctuary is reflective of many of the Photo Biennial’s venues across the state. Paletti and his team of volunteers work with venues to host a variety of exhibitions, from traditional to contemporary, featuring photographers from Louisville and around the world. The Photo Biennial includes gallery exhibitions, events, lectures and workshops, all with the goal to educate guests on visual storytelling through photography. Nearly all the exhibits and events are free to the public.

The fashion featured in The Voice of Louisville exhibition tells a unique story. The images, curated by Baker and the magazine’s editorial team, feature photographs from Red Pin Media publications that span the last decade.

“I’m not choosing the best pair of pants, but what is the most artful photo,” said Baker. “I want to reconceptualize fashion photography and view it as art outside of a magazine. It is art without text or context. I’m looking for photos that tell a story, are compelling in the abstract and that draw you in and make you want to sit with them for a while.”

Photo by Clay Cook.

Photo by Steve Squall.

Paletti notes that much of the iconic fashion art of the 1920s and ’30s was originally used for retail or advertising purposes, but today, the photography is often considered collectible fine art. He hopes showcasing contemporary fashion photography fosters the conversation of art within a photograph. Photographers participating in The Voice of Louisville exhibition agree.

“I love the creative aspect of fashion,” said photographer and filmmaker Antonio Pantoja. “We often mix things that wouldn’t normally ever go together and create some of the most beautiful work. I saw my friend Clay Cook shoot a set with models in hard hats on a construction site, and it was breathtaking. I think that is so interesting because if you described it to someone verbally, they wouldn’t appreciate the beauty in it. They’d have to see it with their eyes. And to me, that is incredible.”

Clay Cook’s award-winning photography takes him across the globe, where his keen eye results in striking art. “I believe fashion is an art,” said Cook. “All photography is important, but it’s our job to create impactful images that not only hook the viewer but also try to create images that standout above the noisy digital landscape. A picture can be powerful. A picture conveys character, emotion, perception and a message through light, expression, position and place.

“Fashion photography has the opportunity to have a cinematic storyline,” he added. “Most see it as a fantasy fiction, but with some incredible visual storytelling and down-to-earth concepting, I think it can relate to people from all walks of life.”

Pantoja’s wish is that the photography-as-art resonates with viewers on a personal level. “I always try to tell a story with my work,” he explained. “The only thing that separates us as creatives is vision or imagination. I hope that people interpret my vision, but the funny thing about art is that when you release it, it doesn’t belong to you anymore. It’s sometimes selfish when we create it, but when we release it, someone else may adopt it for their own story. Like when (the singer) Adele writes a story about a breakup and millions of people all over the world sing it as it aligns to their own personal hardships. It belongs to them now.”

Andrea Hutchinson photographs many of The Voice of Louisville’s current fashion shoots. She works with a large team that includes photography assistants, stylists and hair and makeup professionals. “With the help of my team, we compose visuals depicting the transformative power of fashion and styling,” Hutchinson said. “I would liken it to writing a fairy tale book with lots of interesting characters, where fashion allows us to become those fantastical beings.  I aim to make a viewer stop and look at my images for longer than two seconds. Maybe they are creating their own narrative to fit the moment or imagining themselves as that model, wielding their gaze and jawline like sword and shield, the pleats and drapes of the garments as armor encasing them.”

Photo by Antonio Pantoja.

As the 2019 Photo Biennial winds down, Paletti is already planning for 2021. “The Biennial is a great example of cultural entities working together to put on an event benefiting everyone,” he said. “We want to promote visual literacy and have everyone come out more sophisticated and wiser in their vision and understanding of why photography is important and how it can affect your life.”

Photo by Jessica Budnick.

Events like the 2019 Photo Biennial make a difference, said Cook. “It’s a phenomenal time for photography, because for the first time ever, photography is so easy to create and manipulate. We shoot photography to preserve a memorable moment in time, as a record that will eventually tell the narrative of our lives. … Sharing and viewing that narrative is so clear and simple. By sharing our love, loss, vision and opinion, we are compelled to bond with people on a deeper, real level. Authentic stories humanize and influence. Great stories build a bridge of compassion. And, compassion will always strengthen humanity.” V

Celebrating a Tradition of Fashion Photography

Fashion Photography from The Voice of Louisville

Art Sanctuary – 1433 South Shelby St. (art-sanctuary.org)

Nov. 1 – Dec. 2, 2019

The official Biennial Closing Party and Artist Reception is 6 p.m. Nov. 8 at Art Sanctuary and will feature hors d’oeuvres, live entertainment and a cash bar. The event also is the launch of the new LOOK Museum and Gallery Guide. 

For more information, visit louisvillephotobiennial.com.