According to Oscar Wilde, “illusion is the first of all pleasures.” And boy, if he’s right (and let’s face it, he usually is), New York photographer Noah Sheldon surely came to the right playground to scrutinize both. The result is a striking show, Miami, Miami at Bas Fisher Invitational in the Design District.
Though Sheldon uses a digital camera and shoots in color (the whole palette from minimalist white to blistering red-orange), his work in a studio setting will often capture the spontaneity of a Cartier-Bresson “decisive moment.” I refer to the models he hired from an agency to come dressed in their own clothes as “Miami Housewives.” White, Asian, Latinos. Sheldon’s matter-of-fact style exquisitely portrays the vulnerability and fears of these models behind their bravado and elaborate eye makeup.
Back in the 1930s Walker Evans set out on what became an emblematic assignment for Time magazine to capture the lives of sharecroppers in Alabama. Sheldon’s Miami assignment came with assistance from a Fountainhead Residency and a Matching Challenge Grant from the Knight Foundation. He roamed the area for nine days. He beheld a legendary Moon over Miami, but against a cataclysmic looking sky. He traveled to Homestead and came upon our own 21st Century sharecroppers, bent-over migrant workers harvesting green beans in the field. In a nearby photo Sheldon shows the leaping Technicolor flames of a controlled fire. The scenes can be read as both forthright and anxiety-provoking, but the artist stands back; he’s not telling us how to think.
Sheldon will spend 12 hours at an orchid farm and show us some beautiful results. And he’ll walk the beaches. One day he’ll come upon a hip looking student who happens to be taking a break from school for Senior Day. “What’ll we do with our shoes” (especially when they’re made by Coach) seems to be the most pressing issue of the afternoon for this kid.
Then there are the proud denizens of Haulover, Miami’s famous nude beach. Sheldon checks them out too. There are many seriously past-their-prime candidates who look thrilled to be photographed. Along with close-ups of various pierced parts. So I nominate the enterprising Noah Sheldon into the ranks of special artists known for what critic Peter Schjeldahl refers to as “rigorous noticing.”
Images: Courtesy the artist and Bas Fischer Invitational.