CURATOR'S CHOICE: Juror's Statement
JUROR MALCOLM DANIEL, Curator-in-Charge, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
The many submissions to this year’s CENTER Awards represented a wide range of approaches and techniques—documentary projects, abstraction, fantasy illustration, traditional landscape and portraiture, Photoshop manipulations and nineteenth-century historic processes. The finalists I’ve chosen include a variety of subjects and strategies, but it is meant as a personal—rather than representative—selection of what I found most interesting and creative. Many worthy projects were, by necessity, eliminated as the selection was whittled down to the work of just the finalists.
In reviewing the work of so many photographers, I am struck by how genuinely hard it is to make a new picture—to use photography in a way that is different not merely in subject matter, but also in invention or personal style or strategy. The submissions included, for instance, many documentary photographic projects that were sincerely conceived and personally meaningful, noble in intent, beautifully seen, and handsomely realized… and yet not qualitatively different from one another. I applaud and encourage all those photographers, even when I have not chosen them as finalists; they may well bring personal fulfillment, share beauty and knowledge with others, and even make the world a better place.
Manjari Sharma’s “Darshan” project, which I have awarded top honors, stood out in its appearance, inspiration, intent, and technique. To me, these images hover between the traditional art they reference and something wholly inventive, between constructed fiction and “straight” photography, and between sincere spiritual expression and kitsch. “Darshan” is an ambitious and complex undertaking and was unique among the several hundred submissions reviewed.
Thomas Jackson’s “Emergent Behavior” photographs, which I placed second, are a delightful mystery—magical explosions of cheese puffs, glow sticks, plastic plates and cups, or crumpled paper. Actually “straight” photographs of elaborately and laboriously constructed scenes, Jackson’s pictures may make no pretense of grand ambition but are nonetheless irresistibly appealing and refreshingly distinctive.
Although more traditional in approach and appearance, Anne Berry’s photographs of our primate cousins kept pulling me back with their deep sense of empathy. Perhaps I am a softie, but the compelling subject matter and beautiful craft of Berry’s photographs won me over, as I imagine they have many others.
My choice of finalists and award winners is subjective. While I hope that my judgment will feel like a vote of confidence and encouraging boost for those selected, I have no doubt that many of the other artists I reviewed will find an appreciative audience and champions elsewhere.
-- Malcolm Daniel, Curator-in-Charge, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston