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Tonic of Wildness Photographs by John Bentham


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Tonic of Wildness Photographs by John Bentham Introduction by Tracy L. Adler February 22 – March 29, 2014

The Foundation Gallery 608 Julia Street New Orleans, LA


We need the tonic of wildness...At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature. – Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or Life in the Woods

John Bentham documents various social groups in his photographs,

Bentham approaches his subjects with minimal technical intervention.

depicting individuals from an array of backgrounds in their

In our age of digital manipulation, it is refreshing to see a photograph

environments. His investigation into human behavior has been a

that is not heavily imbued with falsely saturated colors and effects—one

lifelong pursuit that offers an intimate perspective into the lives of his

that instead depicts what is essentially true through the lens of the

subjects. Bentham also extends his practice to landscapes and details

artist’s own perspective.

that complete the photographic stories and provide color and texture to the narratives he portrays. The artist’s humanity toward his subjects is

How can an image be sympathetic, humorous, critical, and poetic at the

evident in his approach: at once insightful, personal, and frank.

same time? That is Bentham’s gift. Somehow he manages to capture all these qualities with an effortlessness that belies the complexity of his

Throughout his career, Bentham has focused on subcultures, including

subjects. His approach to the people and places he photographs does not

burlesque dancers, drag queens, bikers, and roller derby teams. Often

endeavor to simplify or qualify their lives. Rather, these images present

these series develop over several years, and the artist fosters close

an often relatable perspective as they document the peculiarities of

relationships with his subjects, allowing for an inside view into their

social behavior. As he has done in his other work, Bentham here uses the

worlds. The series of works featured in this exhibition present a range of

camera to observe and record while he becomes embedded within the

photographs, taken from 2012 through the present, that were inspired

culture he visually explores.

by Bentham’s move from New York City to rural upstate New York in the summer of 2012. After over two decades of living in New York City,

As Thoreau wrote, we need “the tonic of wildness”—moments never

Bentham found the dramatic change from the busyness of urban life

before seen in a particular way, places never before defined with such

to the slower pace of the small town a compelling subject to tackle. The

clarity. Through this new body of work, Bentham delves into the dynamic

resulting images—a group of participants at a local truck pull; a lone rig

and mysterious relationships between people and their environment, a

parked in a lot outside Utica—faithfully represent the milieu in which

journey that is endlessly fascinating and unhaltingly original.

the artist operates and lend an experiential, “being there” quality to the moment depicted.

Tracy L. Adler

Director

Drawing from a rich tradition of documentary photographers such as

Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, and Bruce Davidson,

No! Dogs, Roadside Vegetable Stand, 2012

Clinton, New York


American Legion, Post 232, Franklin Springs, NY, 2013 House for Sale, Old Bristol Road, 2012 Opposite: Oriskany Creek Farms, Horse Stable, 2013


1965 Dodge Dart, Route 12B, 2012 Pontiac Firebird, Cruisin’ Into Waterville, 2013 Opposite: Lloyds of Lowville Diner, 2012


Family Dollar Rig, VFW Parking Lot, 2012 Opposite: Oriskany Creek, Swimming Hole, 2012


Hall’s Fudge & Taffy, Herkimer County Fair, 2012 Opposite: Bumper Cars, Boonville-Oneida County Fair, 2012


Spring Day, Interstate 90, East of Syracuse, NY, 2013 Whiteout, Route 12, West of Russia, NY, 2013 Opposite: Band Uniforms, Clinton Central School, 2012


Fresh Road Kill, Route 12B, Franklin Springs, NY, 2013 Opposite: Walmart Rig, Kirkland, NY, 2012


The General Lee, Wheel Days, Brookfield, NY, 2013 Ferris Wheel, Herkimer County Fair, 2012 Opposite: Truck Pull, Wheel Days, Brookfield, NY, 2013


Corn Dogs & Cold Drinks, Herkimer County Fair, 2012 Roller Coaster, State Fair, Syracuse, NY, 2012 Opposite: Food Counter, Madison County Fairgrounds, NY, 2013


It was the uniqueness of America that came into play, including many cars, many people, terrifying cities, hard-working people and this big country where all speak in one language. It seems to be the uniqueness in the country that I think it’s just the intuition that made me concentrate on that aspect of America. It’s a kind of ordinariness.

— Robert Frank, speaking of The Americans

A kind of ordinariness: An apt description of where I suddenly found

Typically when a photographer travels to a new location, it opens up

myself, and the view from the front porch of my new life. Transplanta-

a new world. Even a locally ubiquitous subject can yield a fresh mine

tion proved to be difficult to master. Historically my documentary

of images, experiences, and photographs. Following my relocation to

projects have focused on subcultures, raucous activities, and colorful

upstate New York in the summer of 2012—and in spite of my being

characters—bikers, burlesque dancers, drag queens. This entirely new

presented with an entire new library of visuals—I felt very much like

environment required a new vision. I found myself wondering how to

I didn’t fit, an out-of-place city boy, or one the “new” people.

approach it—how could it not be too “ordinary”? My relocation created a dissociation, an alternate reality, a barrier Photographers—true photographers, those who can’t imagine being or

much like Tyvek building wrap—something you commonly see in rural

doing anything else—visualize every unique experience and every scene

communities, covering houses under construction or remodeling.

throughout their lives as a photograph. We tend to walk down the street

Meant to be a temporary, and ultimately covered layer, at times it

finding photographs. Imagining what this or that would look like with a

becomes semi-permanent, left exposed due to a lack of time or initiative,

frame around it. At times this is invigorating; at times it is exhausting.

or an underestimation of building costs. The wrap remains exposed, a renovation in stasis … until the next spring, a windfall, or employment,

Research has proven that photographers process information faster

whichever comes first. This whole experience, the “ruralness” and the

than other people. We have to. Life happens quickly and we somehow

banality, felt like a barrier. Not impregnable, not overtly imposing,

see it as our job to interpret and record it. The relative success or failure

though definitely present and tangible.

of any potential photograph is decided in an instant. This approach necessitates intuiting a scene, quickly determining the important

Eventually I began paying closer attention to the everyday, something

elements, eliminating any unnecessary or extraneous elements, and

I had always tried to block out while living in New York City in an attempt

ultimately capturing the shot in a 1/125 of a second. Obviously the

to remove myself from the toxicity of grime and abrasion. Thus this

technical aspects of photography add yet another level of complexity.

series materialized into a quest to find the uniqueness in everything, an

But first it’s imperative to see the shot, an art difficult to accomplish

exploration into the intrigue of the common. The challenge was how to

with closed eyes.

make something ordinary appear extraordinary. Easier said than done, and perhaps best expressed by photographer Bruce Davidson:

Even in a city like New York, a photographer can become tired of seeing the same things. Everywhere gets old after a while. Or perhaps, more accurately, one develops an attitude of self-preservation, dismissing

Most of my pictures are compassionate, gentle, and personal. They tend to let the viewer see for himself. They tend not to preach. And they tend not to pose as art.

one’s surroundings or potential photographs. In hindsight, after living in New York City for over 20 years, I realized that much of the city had

John Bentham

become too familiar, having appeared too often in the omnipresent

January, 2014

viewfinder of my eye.

Auto Racing Museum, Madison County Fairgrounds, NY, 2013


Solo and Two-Person Exhibitions The Foundation Gallery, Tonic of Wildness, solo show, New Orleans, 2014 PMDA, two-person show, Los Angeles, CA, 2013 Unique Photo Gallery, two-person show, Fairfield, NJ, 2012 Amelie A. Wallace Gallery, two-person show, SUNY, Old Westbury, NY, 2012 Duvet Lounge, Photographs of Morocco, two-person show, New York, NY, 2009 PS122 Gallery, two-person show, New York, NY, 2008 Galapagos Art Space, Brooklyn, NY, 2004 The Ohio Theater Gallery, New York, NY, 1995

John Bentham is an award-winning photographer specializing in documentary and portrait photography. Bentham has garnered accolades from Nikon, Photo District News, Kodak, the New York Times, Prix de la Photographie, Magnum Photos and the Maine Media Workshops. His work has been exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Toronto, Paris, Tokyo, Prague and Oaxaca, Mexico, and is represented in several private and institutional collections. Bentham’s clients and publications include AUDI, CitiGroup, Fidelity Investments, Forbes, Mercedes-Benz, Newsweek, the New York Times, People Magazine, Pfizer, Rolling Stone, Panasonic, Sony, Time, Toyota, Saatchi & Saatchi, and Vanity Fair. Bentham has photographed many public figures including Eli Manning, Harrison Ford, Philip Glass, SEAL, Alec Baldwin, Julianne Moore, David Bowie, Rihanna, Maroon 5, The Black Eyed Peas, James Taylor and the immortal Evel Knievel. His documentary projects include bikers, burlesque dancers, drag queens and his latest project, roller derby in upstate New York. To see more of Bentham’s work, visit www.johnbentham.com or www.facebook.com/john.bentham

Group Exhibitions The Kirkland Art Center, Clinton, NY, 2014 Sculpture Space, Exhibition Benefit, Utica, NY, 2013 The Lost Pair, Rizza, New York, NY, 2013 The Lost Pair, Parlor, New York, NY, 2013 Sculpture Space, Exhibition Benefit, Utica, NY, 2012 Mist Wave Interactive Art Installation Benefit, N e w Yo r k , NY, 2011 The One Story Literary Debutante Ball, New York, NY, 2011 Leave Out Violence, Exhibition Benefit, New York, NY, 2011 PS 122 Gallery, Last Call, New York, NY, 2010. The Centro Fotografico Alvarez Bravo, Curated by Mary Ellen Mark, Oaxaca, Mexico, 2011 The 4th Annual Drag Show Video Verite, Lincoln Center, New York, NY, 2010 25th Anniversary Salon, Lehman College Art Gallery, Bronx, NY, 2010 Leave Out Violence, Exhibition Benefit, New York, NY, 2010 Galerie 13 Sévigné, Paris, France, 2008 Art Gotham, New York, NY, 2008 T.O.A.S.T., TriBeCa Open Artists Studio Tour, New York, NY, 2008 Franklin Station Café, New York, NY, 2008 New York Law School, New York, NY, 2008 Toast to TOAST, Synagogue for the Arts Gallery, New York, NY, 2008 The Culture Center, New York, NY, 2008 PS122 Gallery, Benefit Exhibition, New York, NY, 2007 PDN PhotoPlus Expo, World in Focus Exhibition, New York, NY, 2007 ADC Photography Invitational Review, New York, NY, 2007 Leave Out Violence, Exhibition Benefit, New York, NY, 2007 Toast to TOAST, Synagogue for the Arts Gallery, New York, NY, 2007 T.O.A.S.T., TriBeCa Open Artists Studio Tour, New York, NY, 2007 TriBeCa Organization, the TriBeCa Film Festival, MI-5, New York, NY, 2007 Franklin Station Café, New York, NY, 2007 New York Law School, New York, NY, 2007 Leave Out Violence, Exhibition Benefit, New York, NY, 2006 Traveling Light, Images of Travel, Elmhurst Hospital, Queens, NY, 2005 Photowork’04, Barrett Art Center, juried by Jennifer Blessing, Poughkeepsie, NY, 2004 Kodak Photography, The Duggal Lab, New York, NY, 2004

SOHO Photo Gallery, juried by Janet Borden, New York, NY, 2004 Contact/ARVD, Exhibition Benefit, New York, NY, 2003 Design Trust for Public Spaces, Exhibition Benefit, New York, NY, 2003 Bertha and Karl Leubsdorf Gallery, Hunter College, New York, NY, 2002 Mohonk Preserve, Exhibition and Benefit, New Paltz, NY, 2002 Design Trust for Public Spaces, Exhibition Benefit, New York, NY, 2002 Mohonk Preserve, Exhibition and Benefit, New Paltz, NY, 2001 Viscomm ’96, Jacob Javits Center, New York, NY, 1996 Viscomm ’96, San Francisco, CA, 1996 The Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada, 1995 Fotoforum, Prague, Czech Republic, 1992 Nikon House, Nikon Photo Contest International, Tokyo, Japan, 1991 Nikon House, Nikon Photo Contest International, New York, NY, 1991 Center for Art and Design, Toronto, Canada, 1990 Ryerson Photography Gallery, Toronto, Canada, 1986 Ryerson Photography Gallery, Toronto, Canada, 1985 University of Western Ontario, London, Canada, 1979

Awards/Honors Finalist Nominee for The Rema Hort Mann Foundation Grant, 2010. Magnum Photos Portfolio Review, 2009. Finalist Nominee for The Rema Hort Mann Foundation Grant, 2009. White Columns Artist Registry, 2009. Finalist Nominee for The Rema Hort Mann Foundation Grant, 2008. Px3 Photo Competition, Prix de la Photographie, Paris, 2008. Photowork’04, Barrett Art Center Photography Competition, 2nd Place, 2004. Folio Magazine Ozzie Awards, Best BW Feature, Gold, 2003. Kodak ProPass, A Photographer to Watch, 2003. Photo District News, Best Web Site, Photography Annual 2003. RX Club Awards, Award of Excellence, VFEND Launch Kit, 2002. RX Club Awards, Award of Excellence, VFEND Survival Ad, 2002. RX Club Awards, Award of Excellence, VFEND Doctors Ad, 2002. MacroMedia Site of the Day, Audi Website, 2001. International ARC Awards, Gold Award, 1999. International ARC Awards, Bronze Award, 1999. Maine Photographic Workshops, Golden Light Awards, 1996. Creativity ‘95 Awards, 1995. Studio Magazine Award, 1994. Art Directors Club Award, 1992. Kenneth R. Wilson Memorial Award, Gold, 1991. Nikon Photo Contest International, 1991. Studio Magazine Award, Silver Award, 1989. Art Directors Club Award, 1988. Photography Award, Ryerson University, 1986.


Acknowledgements Lila Heymann The Heymann Foundation The Foundation Gallery Alice McGillicuddy Erica Amrine Tracy L. Adler The Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art | Hamilton College 198 College Hill Road, Clinton, NY 13323 www.hamilton.edu/wellin Catalog design by Tim Laun Catalog essays edited by Casey Ruble Catalog printing by Michael Graphics Exhibition prints by Aspen Creek Photo Digital print consultant, Brad Dickson Edition of 500 Published 2014 by The Foundation Gallery 608 Julia Street New Orleans, LA 70130 Hours: Tuesday – Wednesday, 11am to 4pm Thursday – Saturday 11am to 6pm Telephone: 504-568-0955 www.foundationgallerynola.com Proceed from this exhibition benefited the Treme Market Branch, New Orleans www.trememarketbranch.com All images © John Bentham, John Bentham Photography, All rights reserved www.johnbentham.com

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608 Julia Street New Orleans, LA 70130 www.foundationgallerynola.com

Tonic of Wildness: Photographs by John Bentham  

Exhibition catalog published by The Foundation Gallery, New Orleans, in conjunction with the exhibition - Tonic of Wildness, Photographs by...

Tonic of Wildness: Photographs by John Bentham  

Exhibition catalog published by The Foundation Gallery, New Orleans, in conjunction with the exhibition - Tonic of Wildness, Photographs by...

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