Elena Dorfman: “Sublime: The LA River” at Modernism Inc.
by Leora Lutz
art ltd., March 2016
Sometimes history has an interesting way of repeating itself. Layers of time leave marks and impressions on the landscape, carrying with it stories and visual cues that lapse or remain. The indelibility of these historical traces is documented in Elena Dorfman’s series of photographs on view at Modernism. “Sublime: The LA River” features several large-scale works printed on metallic paper that imparts an eerie glow.
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Elena Dorfman’s ‘Sublime’ photography imagines a more scenic L.A. River
by Liesl Bradner
Los Angeles Times
January 30, 2016
An image in photographer Elena Dorfman’s new series on the Los Angeles River shows a magnificent landscape with quintessential Spanish-style, red-tile-roof L.A. homes nestled in green hillsides, a glassy blue stream in the foreground lined with verdant foliage.
Unfortunately, you can’t visit this scenic paradise because it doesn’t exist.
“It’s a snapshot of L.A. that existed in my memory,” Dorfman said of her interpretations of reality. “I embellish what I think tells a story.”
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The history of artistic representation of the American landscape is grounded in the dichotomy between the sublime wilderness versus the cultivated beauty of the perfect man-made vista. Both have a powerful lure on the American psyche’s struggle for progress and the wild unknown. With that in mind, the recent conceptual landscapes by Elena Dorfman caught my attention. Elena is best know for her intensive portrait series that examined the myriad subcultures such as Fandomania: Characters & Cosplay, thoroughbred jockeys in The Pleasure Park, and people and their life-sized sex dolls in Still Lovers. I wanted to know what lures such a photographer to the land. Elena explained that she initially intended her series to be “about the people who gather at quarries to jump, but after a summer of obsessively shooting jumpers–or ‘fallers’–as [she] called them, [she] felt more drawn to the spaces than the people. Thus began a two-year exploration of active and abandoned rock quarries throughout Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky,” which became the genesis of her series and critically acclaimed monograph, Empire Falling. Continue reading here:
In the spring of 2013, photographer Elena Dorfman embarked on a six-month journey to document the Syrian refugee crisis for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The shattered dreams, hardships, and longings of teenage refugees captured her attention, inspiring intimate portraits and audio recordings of young subjects throughout northern Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, and Turkey. A multimedia installation of “Syria’s Lost Generation” is currently on view at the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum through January 2016. From her home in Los Angeles, Dorfman reflected on her experiences traveling abroad and producing this compelling body of work. Continue reading here:
UNITED STATES HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUM
SHOWCASES ELENA DORFMAN MULTI-MEDIA INSTALLATION
FROM SYRIA’S LOST GENERATION SERIES
PORTRAITS AND AUDIO RECORDINGS OF TEEN REFUGEES
ON VIEW THROUGH JANUARY 2016
IN THE SIMON-SKJODT CENTER FOR THE PREVENTION OF GENOCIDE
Washington, DC — Syria’s Lost Generation, a multi-media installation drawn from an ongoing series documenting Syrian teen refugees by Los Angeles-based photographer Elena Dorfman is on view at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum through January 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=beMY-IulCMA
The Syrian conflict, which killed over 150,000 people and drove over 11 million people–half the country’s population — from their homes, has become what the New York Times recently called one of the worst refugee crises in generations and the worst migration crisis since World War II. In 2013 the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees) asked Dorfman to tell from an artistic and visually compelling perspective a story about this crisis that would stand apart from other photographs being produced in the region.
Making portraits and audio recordings throughout Lebanon, Turkey, Kurdistan (Iraq) and Jordan, Dorfman, a fine art photographer whose work has exposed marginalized communities in a way that brings them respect and attention, found herself most compelled by the teenagers. Syria’s Lost Generation portrays a physics champion, a published poet, a religious scholar, and a girl who simply misses the particular taste of her favorite food from home. Each speaks of powerful longing and frustration. With little opportunity for study or meaningful work, they all speak about their lives passing them by and futures that now seem lost. They are, indeed, the lost generation of Syrians, sitting out young adulthood in exile.
“We live in a hyper-connected world with a seeming endless access to information,” says Cameron Hudson, director of the Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide. “However, the power of that imagery is often lost by itself. The stunning images and individual stories Dorfman captured while covering the Syrian refugee crisis has put a personal face and voice to this violent conflict and the suffering of so many innocent people.”
ABOUT ELENA DORFMAN
Known for her ability to bring dignity and empathy to under-represented subjects, Elena Dorfman’s most recent body of work focuses on teenaged Syrian refugees, forced to flee their country because of civil war. In 2013, Elena was asked by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) to utilize her visual style to help promote the cause of the refugees. Based in the Middle East, she gravitated toward Syrian teenagers, some of whom were peaceful protesters during the early demonstrations for democracy, now shell-shocked and bereft in exile. This ongoing series, Syria’s Lost Generation, is currently the subject of a multimedia installation on view at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, in Washington, DC. It was also featured as a series of portraits and accompanying first-person interviews in The New Yorker and National Public Radio show, Here and Now.
Dorfman’s photographs have been widely exhibited and collected. Her monographs include, Empire Falling (Damiani, 2013), Fandomania: Characters & Cosplay (Aperture, 2007), and Still Lovers (Channel Photographics, 2005). Her work has been exhibited by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum, and the Denver Art Museum, among others. She is represented by Modernism, San Francisco. www.elenadorfman.com
ABOUT THE MUSEUM
A living memorial to the Holocaust, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum inspires citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity. Its far-reaching educational programs and global impact are made possible by generous donors. The Museum is open every day except Yom Kippur (September 23, 2015) and Christmas Day (December 25). The Permanent Exhibition and special exhibitions are open from 10 a.m. to 5:20 p.m., with extended hours in the spring. See Museum Hours for details. For more information, visit www.ushmm.org.
Elena Dorfman is featured online in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) artist invitational interview series Artists Respond. LACMA invites artists to create a work inspired by its current exhibitions exploring connections to their artistic practice. Dorfman chose Nature and the American Vision: The Hudson River School, on view through June 7, as her point of departure, and, in particular, Thomas Cole’s painting The Savage State, one of his five-part series, The Course of Empire. Dorfman’s response was Bell Avenue, 2014, a photographic construct from her new series, River.
Thomas Cole’s The Course of Empire, made between 1833 and 1836, chronicles the rise and fall of an imaginary city, and serves as an allegory for the cyclical progression of civilization from a state of barbarism through advanced social and cultural development, and eventual descent into ruin. Like Cole, for whom the scene functioned as an index to feelings and associations, and who wrote that to create his compositions he “sat down amidst his sketches, made selections, and combined them”, Dorfman’s photographs culminate from the collision of scenes in nature both real and imagined. For Dorfman, The Savage State offered a framework for Bell Avenue, as she sifted through thousands of images of the Los Angeles River shot over the course of years. With this Response image, she reconstructs a collage of time, place, and encountered elements to tell a contemporary story that includes the elements of movement and drama.
Princess Garnette”, a Dorfman work from the Fandomania Series in the permanent collection of the Palm Springs Art Museum, is featured in Personalities: Fantasy and Identity in Photography and New Media. On view through May 3, the exhibition looks at the representational power of photography from its origins in the nineteenth century to its digital forms in the present. Personalities emphasizes the unique characteristics of the photographic image to shape both the identity of a photographed sitter and a viewer’s sense of a subject’s persona. Other artists included in Personalities are Marina Abramovic, Brian Bress, Weegee, Jona Frank, Katy Grannan, Pirkle Jones, Milton Rogovin, Jono Rotman, and Wang Qingsong.
In the Fandomania Series, Dorfman examines the pop culture phenomenon of “cosplay,” in which participants dress up in costumes—and live part of their lives—as characters from video games, animated films, and Japanese graphic novels. This is an exploration of youthful identity through an alter ego. Aperture published Fandomania: Characters & Cosplay in 2007, coinciding with a solo exhibition at Edwynn Houk Gallery.