At the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center until September 2nd is an exhibition called Cameras, Communities, Connections from a collective called ph15. The ph is an abbreviation of the word photography and 15 refers to the specific shantytown in Buenos Aires where all the imagemakers, who range in age from 13 to 28 years old, are from. Formed in 2000 by the Argentine photographer Martin Rosenthal, an alumnus of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, the collective began as a way for a marginalized population of young adults to have a voice. Further compounding their situation is the continuing economic crisis in Argentina, initiated by the plummeting currency, hyperinflation, and loan defaults of the past five years.
Were there another relevant theme to this show, it would be Communication. The photographs communicate the intimacy within the collective and the complexity of each member's situation beyond the usual generalized view of the dispossessed. Through the many large scale Iris prints and handmade books of carefully sequenced black and white prints, a complete story is told, filled with elements of joy and gravity. Eugenio Alfonso's images from his handmade book, for example, have images of boys gleefully playing soccer, but also include a series on the process of having to exhume his mother's body from the local cemetary, because he can no longer to pay for her continued burial there. These images are less horrifying than sobering, for there is simply no other course of action, it is what must be done.
Further along the theme of communication, the curators of the show, Heidi Marston and Steve Aishman, have smartly added technical elements that expand the realm and interactivity of the project. A video made last summer has the students thoughtfully responding to questions about the role of photography in their respective experiences and documents the weekly activities of the collective. One particularly wonderful moment shows the students at an opening when their work is first exhibited at a gallery in a wealthy part of Buenos Aires. Their nervousness about the situation combined with their excitement and pride is palpable, a situation Marston and Aishman have maintained in this show by means of video conferencing.
In one area of the downstairs gallery, a laptop and video camera allow viewers of the show to interact with a group of ph15 students in real time. Certainly a fun aspect of the show's opening in July, arrangements can be made with the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center to set up a time to initiate a video chat with the ph15 students - highly recommended.
"ph15: Cameras, Communities, Connections" is on view until September 2nd at CMAC, located at 41 Second St., Cambridge, MA
Images courtesy of ph15 and CMAC.