Kirk Hopper Fine Art presents Brian Finke : American Pictures.
Cheerleaders, football players, flight attendants, construction workers, Ms Senior America beauties, hip hop honeys, biker kids, U.S. Marshals, backyard fighters and bodybuilders. Hot girls, hot guys.
Spanning over two decades of sharp, high-contrast color photographs that straddle the documentary, editorial and art worlds, the KHFA gathering of some 100 images is the Brooklyn-based artist’s first major exhibition in Dallas.
Finke shuffles visual stimuli, bouncing us between genres, eras and moods. Blending raw naturalism with hyper-reality, his lurid and transgressive images send up all the red flags. You’ll do a double take, unsure of the narrative you just saw. Finke’s grasp of the fetishistic, of cloaked emotions and stalled dreams is so convincing that you can’t help but feel party to things you weren’t meant to see.
Finke has a particular slant on what makes America tick. His total immersion in boundary pushing subjects reveal a range of human behaviors that capture the core of contemporary life. At work is a certain romanticism to his approach, with psychological intricacies of inner worlds. Finke’s portraits and stories are rooted in the humanistic photojournalism of W. Eugene Smith, and a generation of photographers – Jim Goldberg, Larry Sultan, Larry Fink, among others- whose intensely personal images blurred the lines between documentary and staged elements of outside-the-mainstream and suburban life. It’s easy to get sucked into Finke’s world, as easy as getting caught up in the American Dream.
As witness to an increasingly complex media culture, Finke is fearless in his exploration of identity. All of his images seem to thrive on mixed messages, intimacies and lots of provocative iconoclastic attitudes. He goes all in. Despite the exhilarating, breakneck speed of each series, there is an episodic rhythm to the pacing: one narrative piles on top of the other. Again and again, the exchanges are humorous, uninhibited and revealing.
At times, Finke veers toward shaggy theatrical engagement with sexy and dire effects of American extended adolescence. Instead of making his subjects victims, however, Finke gives them agency and power in a chaotic world. Finke generally works in limited series and spends long periods of time with his subjects, entering their worlds so that his visual accounts are subjective, but retain and outsider’s objectivity.
“Many of the people I photograph are participating in activities, communities, hobbies, or jobs,” says Finke. “Sometimes these roles have a kind of preassigned collective identity that I enjoy exploring. When considering a cheerleader, for instance, it’s difficult to not unsee the predetermined social narratives and identities. I love infiltrating these groups and capturing these quiet moments within a bustle of activity. Sometimes these portraits are of interior moments that might myth-bust a stereotype or just offer another point of view – a lonely cheerleader who you want to hug; a placid moment despite an active jackhammer. But, again, because I document what is in front of me, I will also show you that over-the-top cheerleader or machismo bodybuilder. A scenario or portrait of someone who breaks the mold next to a scenario or portrait straight out of central casting.”
Finke captures the lives of real people in images whose balance and passion transcend their everyday subject matter. Although Finke does not interject himself into his pictures, he does regard the lens as more intimate than invasive, working as a kind of divining rod, searching aggressively for a revealing moment. Significantly, Finke uses snap color to intensify gesture, create atmosphere and enthrall the viewer. He discovers the fascinating and thrilling in the banal by means of detail and close-up. Through scale, frontality, eye contact and body language, his images seem less on the wall than in the room with us.
A cheerleader seduces with blonde hair, falling below her ears, red lipstick, blank stare and cut-out uniform that exposes a tanned and tight stomach. An 8’ x 8’ triptych, anchored by a portrait of John McAfee pointing a gun to his head puts us body-to-body with the erratic technology entrepreneur. He is flanked by a bare chested young man with blood-soaked nose and a Senior Ms. America, who lifts her finger to a liquid-lined eye.
Finke spent two years traversing the skies, following flight attendants for Delta, Southwest, Hawaiian, Air France and even Hooters Air. He studies the women on planes, but also in the everyday – at home, going to the store, or picking up their kids. All of Finke’s subjects form tribes, reaffirmed here by the flight attendants’ distinctive uniforms and choreographed mannerisms – part fashion model, soldier, and school girl vibe. For the “US Marshals” series, Finke embedded with the patrol while they went on raids, riding in the back seat as the force hit houses or arrested hookers and human traffic violators.. He gets physically close to a US Marshal, who looks like a teenager wielding a gun, and catches him in full throttle action.
In “Hip Hop Honeys,” Finke takes a close look at the often nameless women who dance and pose in music videos. He spent three years hanging out back stage at shoots, traveling between New York, Las Vegas, Miami and L.A. to reveal the diverse women, both empowered and demeaned. Finke shows them to be more than just “set pieces.” Their compelling presence helps secure the status of male rappers like Busta Rhymes and Kanye West; they are also larger than life, bold, fierce, an explosion of energy. For “Backyard Fights,” Finke connected with an underground fight club founded by the ex-con Scarface in rural Virginia. The members relieve stress with punches, thereby resolving disputes by fists rather than guns. Throughout, Finke pushes the boundaries of physical violence within a positive space and supportive community.
Finke grew up in the Houston area and his family currently resides near Fort Worth. During the pandemic, Finke and his two sons made several trips to visit his parents, sister and her children. The “Texas” series, an exploration of family in his home state, adds a more delicate, cinematic approach to Finke’s highly eclectic body of work. His family gathers for backyard barbecues and water volleyball tournaments in the swimming pool; the children are spread-eagle in full sun or camouflaged by half-shadow. In many respects, these images serve as a kind of self-examination and self-healing. They are emotional memories – what the nerve and skin remember as well as how they appeared.
Finke invests his photographs with the enchantment of fantasy and the exotic, as well as the disturbing or dangerous without relinquishing the power of fact. We imagine ourselves in the lives of others, an existential reverie, but also adventure, romance and wit. Throughout, the visual allure surreptitiously interacts with the basic desires that govern our daily existence. Finke’s studied responses remind us that there is no higher or lower nature in human beings. It’s all one.
Brian Finke’s visual cultural commentary focuses on authenticity and the absurdity of everyday life and the range of human behavior. A stylized documentarian and trained photojournalist, Finke’s honesty and intimacy when capturing subjects strikes at the core of contemporary life, with a uniquely American point of context and graphic sensibility.
Often with boundary pushing subject matter, Finke challenges the viewer to confront what is often right in front of them, with an almost surreal understanding of immediacy, time, and place. From street photography to commercial portraiture to fashion editorials, his immersion in culture-at-large creates imagery that is deeply tied to the political and emotional undertones of the modern world.
A graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York City, Finke received a BFA in photography in 1998. He is the author of several books, and his first monograph, 2, 4, 6, 8 (2003), was named one of the best photography books by American Photo magazine. Earlier in his career, Finke was one of twelve artists nominated for the International Center for Photography’s annual Infinity Award, and he won a prestigious New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship. Finke’s work is in nine museum collections in the U.S. and abroad, and he regularly shoots for editorial clients like National Geographic, M magazine, and The New York Times as well as commercial clients, including Delta Airlines, Uber Eats, and eBay. In addition to photographing his long term personal projects, Brian is a guest teacher at the International Center of Photography in Manhattan and FotoFilmic in Vancouver.
Essay by Susie Kalil
Brian Finke : American Pictures
February 26 – March 26, 2022
Kirk Hopper Fine Art
1426 N. Riverfront Blvd., Dallas, Texas 75207
Saturday, February 26, 2022
6.00 – 8.00 p.m.