Camera Obscura

A single, quick glance at Billie #14 is all it takes to burn the name Lyle Ashton Harris into one’s brain forever. Ashton’s transfer print from an old Polaroid is so evocative of a long-gone glamour era, so transformative of Billie Holiday’s unmistakable visage, that no one who sees this dye-diffused photo of the jazz immortal, her mouth yanked wide by a long, lonesome bit of song, can ever forget it.

The image is included in the “Lyle Ashton Harris: Blow Up” exhibit, a retrospective of the photographer’s work. It’s the first real survey of Harris’ work, spanning two decades and including the oddly formal self-portraits that gained him his earliest acclaim. The show’s title is a nod to Harris’ contention that photography is a social performance, not a source of flat, iconic images. He “blows up” our ideas of portraiture and re-imagines mass-media imagery (thus the occasional comparisons to Warhol), focusing on our role as the reader of the image rather than the image itself.

Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sundays, 12-5 p.m.; Thursdays, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Starts: Feb. 8. Continues through May 22, 2008
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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela