Founded in 1974, SF Camerawork is a nonprofit art gallery in San Francisco that welcomes experimental and unconventional photography. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, museums and art galleries — like many other venues where people usually flock — have entered the virtual space. On Oct. 29, SF Camerawork held an opening reception for its annual survey exhibition, this year titled “Forecast 2020,” on Zoom, with the exhibition available to view for free on its website.
Every year, SF Camerawork invites a jury to curate artwork for this exhibition. This year’s jurors — Elena Gross, Lester Rosso and Michael Jang — had the task of surveying more than 300 submissions and selected 12 artists’ work. At the reception, some of the artists got a chance to share their unique experiences and how their work was informed and inspired by their life. Irene Antonia Diane Reece, an artist born and raised in the South, took inspiration from family archives and history, while others such as Jaclyn Wright, an interdisciplinary artist, centered her art around the birthmark on her neck.
The winner of the Juror’s Choice Award was Rachel Fein-Smolinski, an artist and educator from Buffalo, New York. Fein-Smolinski’s work, “Sex Lives of Animals Without Backbones,” features images of patients from medical archives and explores what she describes as courage, pain and power dynamics in the Western health care system. The intimacy of the images is even more salient given Fein-Smolinski’s own experience as a person with a degenerative autoimmune disease. For almost every piece, the center picture sits atop a collaged background of vibrant prints and pages of text or drawn medical diagrams. Some photographs are printed on ceramic tiles while others are placed in wooden frames, reminding us of the tactile nature art can possess.
The exhibition does not have one central theme; its only constant is its thought-provoking nature. Artist Valerie Mendoza metaphorized the flaws of the real estate industry through her work, “Our Agents.” “Our Agents” is composed of 48 portraits, each of which is a digital amalgamation of several real estate agents’ faces. At the reception, Mendoza expressed how the work started from a personal place, conjured up by familial relations and her experience during the 2008 housing crisis.
Other photographic artists such as Brittney Cathey-Adams, who has been taking self-portraits for the past decade, also got deeply personal. In her unnamed work, Cathey-Adams shares nude self-portraits, capturing a state of complete vulnerability. Her portraits highlight the shifts in self-perception one goes through and explores what it means to untie oneself from fatphobia. She is surrounded by water in her black-and-white images, taking the viewers on a deep dive that radiates a serene energy. Similar to Cathey-Adams, many of the artists featured in “Forecast 2020” have been collecting and curating the images in their projects for a number of years.
This was the gallery’s first virtual opening reception. Reception attendees also included board members, programming committee members and spectators. Dave Elfving, the interim executive director, led the event. Elfving spoke of a silver lining resulting from being virtually bound: It allows us to interact with people who might not otherwise be present with us. This was in reference to the number of reception attendees sheltering in place at various locations, with some living out of the country. Another highlight of being online is that the exhibition now shares complete bodies of work instead of single images, as seen in the past.
Altogether, “Forecast 2020” places us in medias res — whether it be in the middle of an antique shop or an estranged mother-daughter relationship. The exhibition and its opening reception are manifestations of the gallery’s mission to support work from emerging artists and promote community involvement. SF Camerawork also hosts online workshops, artist talks, discussion panels and more. Even on Zoom, the essence of SF Camerawork — discovery, experimentation and celebration — shone through.