"Live Snakes" opens at Photo Méthode Gallery
in Austin, TX, 17 July-26 August


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.

Enough said...