MAN LIVES THROUGH PLUTONIUM BLAST was included in the 7th collaboration since 2004 between the Houston Center for Photography and Fotofest, focusing on Texas based artists using lens-based media in new and innovative ways. Curators from both organizations selected the work of twenty Texas photographers for exhibitions to be split between their two gallery spaces.
MAN LIVES THROUGH PLUTONIUM BLAST SOLO EXHIBIT
AT THE CENTER FOR FINE ART PHOTOGRAPHY
Excerpted from the post:
In his series “Man Lives Through Plutonium Blast,” on view at the Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins, Colorado in a show closing September 23, Peter Brown Leighton explores themes from his 1950s childhood through what he calls “imaginary vernacular images,” digital collages that transform found snapshots into unsettling and surreal fictional narratives. In the images, often set in domestic spaces,
Leighton creates scenes that resemble dark family snapshots. A woman in curlers holds her tiny dog and glowers at the camera; a man crouches in a cardboard box; a girl stands on a couch between a pensive woman and a man in a mask. Other images draw on the vast spaces and familiar locations found in vacation snapshots. An unsmiling couple pose in front of Mount Rushmore—their grave expressions matching the stone presidents behind them. In another, a couple stands on a snowy field in shorts and bare feet, while smoke billows from unseen explosions behind them. A man holding bunches of balloons stands on the roof of a dilapidated chicken coop. Together, the images present a sort of ominous, absurdist version of a period known for its prosperity and conformity.
Throughout the series, Leighton references the shadow cast by the atomic bomb, from the opening image of a newspaper headline about a nuclear explosion (from which the show gets its title), to the closing shot of a mushroom cloud imposed on a city. In a statement, Leighton describes his early childhood in Japan not long after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, events that his parents never mentioned. He also describes a later trip to a sci-fi movie about a giant created by exposure to nuclear energy, an experience that shaped his understanding of “how perilous the world I lived in was,” he writes in a statement about the series. The images, he writes, “encapsulate storylines, spilling over with question marks and exclamation points, populated by men, women, and children fallen from grace, living at a time in which an end to the world as they have known it circles high overhead, just beyond reach and comprehension.”
In Vendome, FR, 46 images from the series Man Lives Through Plutonium Blast are presented in the medieval Chapelle Saint-Jacques from 24 June to 3 September.
Gordon Stetinius and Ashby Nickerson at Candela Gallery selected 11 prints from the series "Man Lives Through Plutonium Blast" to show in this exhibit, featuring artists who create photographic works through various processes of manipulation.
Several of the artists in the exhibit mine personal and art history through their works.
Peter B. Leighton, for example, is interested in the ways we epitomize the past, and so he works with vintage vernacular photography to seamlessly construct new images with found photographs. And within these new narratives, there is a kind of satiric sensibility and darkly comedic undertone that shines through.
"The Eight Portland Art Shows I’m Most Glad I Saw in 2016" from the Willamette Weekly, 29 December 2016
Peter Brown Leighton at Blue Sky
(Man Lives Through Plutonium Blast, April)
I had to walk through this exhibition twice, and then I had to ask someone who worked at the gallery to explain to me what was going on before I could get my head around it. Photographer Peter Brown Leighton digitally combined images from vintage photographs to create each of his deeply disturbing and hilarious compositions. Some manipulations were quite subtle, requiring multiple viewings to ascertain where Leighton had left his fingerprints, like the image of a 50s-era husband with identical twin sisters perched on the arms of his chair. Were they really two people? Was it the same woman repeated? Others left no doubt about what had been changed or about Leighton's knack for creating disquieting, post-apocalyptic tableaus that could leave a permanent crack in your perception, like a smiling man gleefully being struck by lightning; a young boy, in his Sunday best, levitating off the church's altar; or a mushroom cloud in the middle of a city.
LENSCRATCH, Aline Smithson, October 2016
Peter Brown Leighton is sort of a cross between a comedian and a magician, creating single image novelas that are at once off-kilter and humorous, allowing for a sense of confusion and whimsy within the photographic narrative. At first glance, one might miss the fact that these are constructed images using bits and pieces from a variety of found vernacular photographs, where, with a wave of a wand and a top hat, he casts his own actors and landscapes into new realities. His most recent series, Live Snakes, follows two previous projects, Plutonium Blast and Perfect Strangers, each taking us on an unexpected journeys through time and place. Pete has had two solo exhibitions this year, recently closing Live Snakes at the Photo Méthode Gallery, Austin, TX, and Man Lives Through Plutonium Blast at the Blue Sky Gallery, Portland, OR, curated by Christopher Rauschenberg.
Peter was born in Santa Monica, California, in 1948 and raised up in a rural farming community in North Texas. He graduated from Trinity University in San Antonio in 1970 with a degree in history. In the early 1970s, he worked for several years as a darkroom assistant to Tom Wright, a National Endowment for the Arts grant recipient. This was a transformative experience, and Leighton has remained in thrall to the medium of photography and its history and practitioners ever since. For the past several years, he has been engaged in a personal project, reimagining the vernacular history of photography as it has grown and evolved from its humble analog beginnings to the current day.
Austin press reviews "Live Snakes":
From Tribeza Magazine:
PETER BROWN LEIGHTON’S PHOTOS arrest the viewer like a Flannery O’Connor short story. A woman in curlers, holding a miffed Chihuahua, stares provocatively from the couch. A man in coveralls proudly displays a taxidermied wildcat, baring its teeth at the camera. But Leighton’s photos share something else with O’Connor’s oeuvre: his seamlessly spliced analog photos are works of pure fiction.
As a young man, Leighton was trained as an analog photographer but grew into the digital age of imagery in the late 80s. His new exhibition, “Live Snakes,” at Photo Méthode Gallery, showcases Leighton’s delight in bridging the divide between analog photographs and digital technology. With Photoshop, a digital tablet and analog photographs from the early 20th century, the unique work showcases fictitious photographs with an uncanny power to both skew and echo daily reality.
From The Austin Chronicle:
Every image in Peter Brown Leighton's "Live Snakes" tells a good story. Leda and the Swan is a photo of a lake at night. A woman, naked except high socks, sashays into frame from the left, while a swan floats to the lake's edge from the right. The title suggests that something raunchy is going down. It reminds me of a phone video taken at the edge of a raucous party. Some girl had too much to drink and decided to get nude with the swans. It's a bawdy and hilarious moment.
"Hilarious" was one of three words I wrote down while looking at Leighton's work. The other two were "triumphant" and "blithe." In Welcome to Heaven, a man holds a baby next to rows of human skulls. We can't see the man's face, but the baby is gleeful. It would be endearing if not for the skulls grinning by the dozens just behind them. The title seems to say, "Hey, baby. Welcome to life. Oh yeah, and you're good as dead, just like the rest of us, so welcome to death, too." Like Leda and the Swan, Welcome to Heaven is funny. But I'm not laughing at the people in the photo. There's no way this guy doesn't see the skulls. Therefore, he must be laughing along, or else he is so pleased with his own morbidity that he could hardly care if we make fun of him or not. He's getting his, just like Leda and the swan are. They are triumphant because they have achieved something, even if it's silly, and they are blithe because they are so satisfied to have done so, regardless of what we think.
These elements come together well in almost every image, but perhaps none better than Death Runs Faster. A farmer in dirty overalls takes a picture with a cheetah he's caught. The cheetah, wide-eyed and howling, hangs by its feet from a line while the farmer lifts the cheetah's head for the camera. The farmer has a sober expression; he must do this every day.
Like all of the photos, Death Runs Faster looks old. It's sepia-toned. The background is all dust and horizon. The farmer himself looks like a character from The Grapes of Wrath. When I asked about this, I was told that Leighton manipulated vintage photos he's gathered. I was glad to hear this, because I worried I was only looking at amusing pictures the artist had collected. That Leighton composed the images himself gives them essential weight.
I was also told that Leighton included images of his family. I don't know which images these are. This matters because, if there are intriguing concepts at work, I want access to them. The artist statement is poetic but essentially useless. I'm left feeling that something has been missed – something special – and that is too bad.
Ideally, a statement isn't necessary. If there are themes and important details I should know (such as the fact that these images are, in fact, original to the artist and not simply found objects), then the form and display of the work should communicate them. I would like to see further iterations of the series that more effectively emphasize these conceptual elements. Because I enjoyed "Live Snakes" so much, I wouldn't mind another visit with Leighton in the future, just to see how things have progressed. I wouldn't mind at all.
More from The Chronicle:
Peter Brown Leighton's imaginary vernacular images are sourced from bits and pieces of discarded analog photographs acquired over the years from the dust bins of the 20th century. Tell you what: We love this monochrome and faintly Lynchian stuff. And reckon you will, too.
And, finally, from The Austin American Statesman, "Best of Austin" section:
Using bits and pieces of discarded photographs, Peter Leighton Brown creates what are seemingly amateur snapshots but are actually well-crafted images of an imaginary vernacular world where everything is more uncertain and absurd.
The Portland opening night crowd was wonderful! 1,500 folks showed up: gracious, curious and attentive.
From Portland's Willamette Weekly:
Man Lives Through Plutonium Blast
Artist Peter Brown Leighton creates dystopian 21st-century images by digitally combining black-and white snapshots from the mid 20th century. A man and a woman in '50s bathing suits stand on a beach, plumes of ominous smoke billowing behind them. Four Leave It to Beaver-era brothers crowd around the family TV, the headline announcing "AN ATTACK IS TAKING PLACE." Because Leighton's digital manipulation is so seamless, it is often difficult to know what is real and what Leighton has imagined, which makes the series all the more disturbing, foreboding, charming, bizarre and hilarious.
Curator Gordon Stettinius founded Candela Books + Gallery in 2011. Since then he has published the work of several talented photographers and provided a world class gallery space for many others. He is an accomplished photographer in his own right as well educator at Virginia Commonwealth University.
89 Water Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201
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Finalists selected from an international open call for submissions,
by Klompching Gallery owners, Darren Ching and Debra Klomp Ching.
The not-for-profit organization CENTER, founded in 1994, honors, supports, and provides opportunities to gifted and committed photographers. CENTER sponsors Review Santa Fe, the premier juried portfolio review event in the world. Considered one of the most important opportunities for photographers who seek career advancement, Review Santa Fe is designed to facilitate relationships between photographers and leading industry professionals looking for new work.
The editors of Magenta Magazine, an online publication dedicated a contemporary art photography, have published a photo book, Nowa Anatomia (New Anatomy), which examines the idea that photography today has transgressively redefined the classic aesthetic of the human body.