February 26-March 26, 2022
Opening reception Saturday, February 26, 6:00-8:00 pm
Artist will be in attendance
Essay by Susie Kalil
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. Kirk Hopper Fine Art is pleased to present Brian Finke: American Pictures. Spanning over two decades of sharp, high-contrast color photographs that straddle the documentary, editorial and art worlds, the KHFA gathering of some 60 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 photographersJim Goldberg, Larry Sultan, Larry Fink, among otherswhose 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 attitude. 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 viewa 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 everydayat 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 mannerismspart fashion model, soldier, and school girl vibe. For the "U.S. 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 U.S. 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 memorieswhat 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 commentary on American and global culture focuses on authenticity and the absurdity of everyday life. A graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York City, Finke received a BFA in photography. He is the author of 2-4-6-8: American Cheerleaders and Football Players (Umbrage Editions, 2003), Flight Attendants (powerHouse Books, 2008), Construction (DECODE Books, 2012), U.S. Marshals (powerHouse Books, 2014), Hip Hop Honeys (powerHouse Books, 2018), and Backyard Fights (Hat & Beard Press, 2022).
His first monograph was named one of the best photography books of 2004 by American Photo magazine. Also in 2004, 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. A self-described stylized documentarian, his work has been placed in fourteen museum collections in the U.S. and abroad, and he shoots for editorial clients like M Magazine and New York Magazine and commercial clients like eBay and Uber Eats. A native Texan, Brian loves barbecue and is never without a Nikon and a trademark pair of checkered Vans. Brian is a guest teacher in photography at the International Center of Photography in Manhattan and FotoFilmic in Vancouver.
All Brian Finke books mentioned above are available at KHFA.