“Jackie Lee Young curated by Sandy Carson”
Lower Left Gallery exhibits a dusty doublewide Americana in this photographic solo show
Reviewed by Seth Orion Schwaiger, Fri., Jan. 9, 2015
Lower Left Gallery, 1706 S. Third
Through Jan. 19
In the lower left quadrant of the Bouldin Creek neighborhood, in the garage space in the lower left side of a duplex on South Third, you'll find Lower Left Gallery, a humble but clean three-walled space currently exhibiting a solo show of photographs by Jackie Lee Young. The aura of her works, curated by fellow photographer (and frequent Chronicle contributor) Sandy Carson, suit the space well. It's not quite throwback trailer-park glamour – let's call it doublewide, salt-of-the-earth, motel-esque Americana. Road-trip romanticism feels right when you're standing in the space normally occupied by a vehicle, and Young's works deliver just that.
The print quality of the photos is not perfect, and some of the shots border on the journalistic rather than artistic – or worse, on the cliche (a lonely highway with a singular piece of litter, a rusting vintage letter board in a dusty landscape, a dog in a parking lot) – but if the viewer can see past the former and ignore the latter, there are some gems worth meeting the inclement January weather for. (As with many of Austin's best galleries, climate control remains an unattained luxury for Lower Left – bundle up!)
Take Carlton, for example, a photo of the legs and hands of a figure seated on cloth outdoors. The textures of the scuffed knees, olive green socks, patterned blanket, masculine jewelry, and slice of lawn work together in a dynamic composition. That patch of grass is framed in a near-human shape and, in that way, pulls taut the figure-ground relationship – the grass fighting to become the most forward object.
The neighboring Three Rivers plays with space in a different way, the primary subject being a nature mural painted on a cinderblock wall of a garage and a few trashcans to signify the utility of its location. Given the gallery's original use, one wonders if this is the same space where the photo was taken. The lack of cinderblocks says no, but the false wall that that this photo hangs on still teases the possibility. Through that simple gesture, Three Rivers brings the viewer to see the rest of the exhibition with less metaphoric distance, less detachment.
Perhaps that's why the women in Swan Pose and Glass Door are more convincing than they might otherwise be. Both works walk a tightrope of sexiness, managing to do so without objectifying their subjects and avoiding the glorification of the pouty, glossy, trashy, or [insert other hackneyed aesthetic here]. Young is no stranger to those advertisement tropes as a talented fashion and alternative portrait photographer, so even further credit must be given to her and curator Carson for choosing to discern between these and a more artistic approach. The subjects seem just as raw and real as Carlton's knees, but maintain a surprising elegance and fiery complexity in their gritty half-lit environments.
Sylvania American Telephone, Estes Elk, and Sequoia Inn fill out the highlights and create a well of possible travel-based narratives for the exhibition as a whole. It will be interesting to see how Lower Left's closing event – which will include local vendors Nails Y'all, Butter Days, S Coffee, and vintage menswear from Ryan Lobb – completes the unpretentious Americana experience. Enjoy the ride this Saturday, Jan. 10, 1-4pm, and mark your calendars for upcoming exhibitors Denton Watts and Rich Cali (of Common House), opening Jan. 23.