Please join us for an opening reception
SATURDAY, MARCH 21 from 6 to 9pm
SMITH ANDERSEN NORTH is pleased to present the gallery's first solo exhibition for photographer Leon Borensztein, EXTENDED FAMILY. The exhibition features work from his celebrated American Portraits series along with portraits of Japan's Yakuza and Generation X, made on assignment for The New York Times Magazine and shown here in a unique color edition for the first time.
When Borensztein immigrated to the United States in the late 1970s to study photography at the San Francisco Art Institute, he paid his way by traveling the suburbs with his mobile studio, making portraits in people's homes for cut-rate prices. What he gained in the process, racing from one job to the next (sometimes as many as 30 a day), was access to the living rooms of strangers. It was in these rooms that Borensztein noticed the discrepancies between the promises of the American Dream and the realities of most working class families. Borensztein writes, "It was not too long before I realized that I could take advantage of this treasure trove of material by combining my artistic goals with my commercial commitments, and I began to use two cameras: one with color film for the studio and one with black-and-white film for myself. When I was finished with the studio session, I brought out my other camera and quickly made some exposures for myself."
In his American Portraits, Borensztein lets us behind the curtain of the studio set as if revealing the modest underpinnings of a magic trick. Borensztein often backs up just enough to see beyond the edges of his flimsy backdrop, where legs are propped up on turned over stools, men stand on books to appear taller than their wives, and waiting children peer in from behind the backdrop. But perhaps the most revealing aspects of these portraits are the theater of poses and gestures that persist through the photographs, even when Borensztein asks his subjects not to smile, suspending his sitters in a liminal space between exteriority and interiority, projection and reflection. Borensztein finds his most fertile ground in this space for it casts the photographic portrait as an event--one in which numerous elements must come together to produce the illusion that is so readily consumed and will take its place on the mantelpiece as something fixed and absolute. Through subtle shifts and sleights of hand, Borensztein sheds new light on the studio portrait enterprise and on the construction of American identity through photographs that began in the daguerreotype studios of the 1840s.
Borensztein will also be premiering a color edition of his award-winning portraits of Japan's Yakuza and Generation X, made on assignment for The New York Times Magazine in 1994. In this project, he brings his sensibility to Tokyo's underworld. As if staging a casting call, Borensztein uses his backdrop to highlight the theatricality that both separates these groups from mainstream Japanese society and draws them together as distinctly identifiable clans with their own rules of inclusion and exclusion--extended families in their own right.
Leon Borensztein earned his MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1980. He was a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1987 and a grant from the California Council of the Humanities in 2003. His work has been exhibited at Pier 24 Photography in San Francisco, the Centre Nationale de la Photographie in Paris, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. His work is in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, AZ, amongst others. His monograph American Portraits was published by Nazraeli Press in 2011, closely followed by Portraits ii in 2012. His forthcoming title Sharon is a poetic visual chronicle of daily life with his disabled daughter and is slated to be published in 2015. Borensztein raised Sharon as a single parent has been photographing her since birth.
Leon Borensztein, Three Yakuza, Tokyo, 1994
Top Left: Couple with Baby, Bakersfield, CA, 1983
Top Right: Fantaci World Pagent Prince Beauty Winner and Master Photogenic, Beaumont, TX, 1981