Mike Garlington at 111 Minna Street Gallery
Mike Garlington is an artist and photographer who takes hauntingly good portraits. His subjects are familiar faces from society’s underbelly: drifters, buskers, panhandlers, criminals and derelicts.
While a certain type of exploitive homeless genre has been overdone in the past Garlington dramatically alters the genre by creating almost fantasy scenarios with his characters. For his project Positively 6th Street Garlington photographed the hanger outers along San Francisco’s perhaps most desolate street, except rather than shooting them in their natural habitat on the street Garlington set up a studio at Club 6 and shot them posed with stark backgrounds.
The overall effect is that of watching characters from a freak show or a circus or a carnival. But the difference is you do not get the sense that these characters are being exploited because you get a certain sense that Garlington himself is with them in spirit. If they are the freaks, he is the freak show barker.
For some strange reason Garlington made me think that his might be the type of stuff Tom Waits would crank out if instead of an out of tune piano God had given him a camera.
It’s strange somehow to hear Garlington talk about how he got these characters to pose starting with “at first we offered them all sandwiches, but after a while we figured out that $5 worked a lot better.” Instead of the sarcasm you’d expect Garlington evokes a certain amount of duh with that statement that gives you the impression that he could totally understand how someone would rather have $5 than a sandwich.
In addition to the Positively 6th Street portraits, Garlington has several other pieces as part of the exhibit including shots of a recent visit to China where he also turns mundane Chinese specimens into his same elaborate carnival characters of sorts.
Garlington has published a book of his images entitled “Portraits from the Belly of the Whale.” The photography is exceptional and while much of the book is quite disturbing it is equally challenging. You watch as two hooded KKK figures evoke a strong emotional response on the outside of a medicine cabinet only to open the box and find the hoods off and the costumes being worn by two black men. The photography confronts and demands an emotional reaction.
Tonight there will be a reception at 111 Minna Street Gallery in San Francisco opening Garington’s show. If you can’t make it to tonight’s opening though you definitely should still stop by when you get a chance and check out his work. You won’t be disappointed.
Here is more on Garlington from the Stephen Cohen Galleries who represents him.