Welcome to One Fine Show, where Observer highlights a recently opened show at a museum outside of New York City—a place we know and love that already receives plenty of attention.
The language of photography tends to involve connections. There are the connections between two people in a photo and the connections between a subject and their surroundings. Let’s not forget the connection between the viewer and the person being photographed, especially when that person doesn’t know they’re being photographed. And of course, there are the formal connections between photography and other mediums: the photographs that look like they might be paintings or film stills or video games.
All this is to say that the title of SFMOMA’s recently opened show of photography, Kinship: Photography and Connection, might come off as generic. But the works featured therein do, in fact, have poignant and subtle points to make about affinities in worlds natural or built.
The show features over 80 works by Farah Al Qasimi, Mercedes Dorame, Jarod Lew, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Alessandra Sanguinetti and Deanna Templeton, four of whom live in California. The oldest of these works comes from 1998, but all of it feels fresh and fizzing with emotion. “After three years of feeling distant from people during the COVID-19 pandemic, I respond to the genuine feeling and connection to others in this work, and I hope visitors will, too,” said Erin O’Toole, curator and head of photography for the museum.
I was familiar with the work of Sepuya from his inclusion in the 2019 Whitney Biennial and some of his work here comes from the series that was featured there. Faces are hidden in a photography studio, and the camera becomes a cybernetic extension of the person in the frame, looking out at the viewer in a way that is somehow only a little sinister. The SFMOMA show also features a newer work, Model Study (0X5A6947) (2021), in which an unnamed but well-known DJ hides his face while browsing social media presence, the sinister elements internalized, for better or for worse.
Also excellent is the work of Jarod Lew, whose mother was formerly the fiance of Vincent Chin, whose death was significant in the development of the Asian American civil rights movement. Lew photographs young Asian Americans in their homes, showing a solidary of isolation in their rigidly ornamented surroundings. A standout here is Alex and Ryan (2022) who dine next to a full rack of sneakers under a Jeremy Lin jersey.
Al Qasimi and Dorame tackle less human concerns and serve as great contrasts. Al Qasimi focuses on animals as totems of empathy, while Dorame probes her Tongva identity to explore those people’s relationship to the coast, a lush place where the interrelatedness of all the systems are written on the landscape. Al Qasimi’s animals, meanwhile, seem a little out of place in the Anthropocene.
But there’s been a lot of that going around. If you’re still feeling that post-COVID distance, this show may be for you.
Kinship: Photography and Connection is on view at SFMOMA through November 26.