Saturday, January 07, 2006

Burnversions Included In Louis Jacobson's (Art Critic for the Washington City Paper) Top List Of 2005 Photography Exhibitions

"Causeway Storm" by James W. Bailey
"Rough Edge Photography"
(The above was published in the Washington City Paper)

Mr. Louis Jacobson, art critic for the Washington City Paper, has issued his top photography exhibition picks for 2005. I am extremely grateful to him for including my exhibition, Burnversions.


Gimme the Curation

by Louis Jacobson

I tried. I really did. But I simply couldn’t find enough worthy photography exhibitions from 2005 to fill up a top-10 list. So I’m going with nine—and compared to the bounty of choices from past years, even that’s pushing it.

To be fair, 2005 wasn’t a truly awful one for photography in Washington. But it was significantly flawed by missed opportunities. Consider this summer’s Irving Penn retrospective at the National Gallery of Art. It was full of gorgeous platinum prints that documented everything from fashion models and New Guinean warriors to cigarette butts. But the exhibition was also stocked with redundant, uninteresting collages and other lesser works—pieces that would have been culled if the museum had been willing to question the biases of the artist, who made a major bequest of works to the National Gallery in 2002.

The Library of Congress’ exhibition of long-lost color photographs from the Great Depression similarly suffered from lazy curation. The unexpectedness of seeing the Depression depicted in color carried the show only so far; viewers would have been more enlightened had organizers provided more background information—for example, about how the photographers grappled with the complicated transition from black-and-white to color film. Ditto for the National Academy of Sciences’ exhibition of post-1970 depictions of the Western landscape. The show was stocked with fine pieces, including bracing images by Robert Dawson, Patrick Nagatani, and Mark Ruwedel. But the enterprise was hobbled by the curators’ incorrect assumption that photographers in the West invariably sought to document the beautiful prior to the late 20th century. As a result, what could have been a fascinating examination of photographic history was reduced to a presentation of photographic novelty.

There is at least some good news to report about local museum exhibitions: Heightened attention to photography at the National Gallery has brought several shows that Washingtonians might not have otherwise seen, including an upcoming exhibition on the restless, inventive first 100 years of photographic history. And better yet—at least if the latest timetable is to be believed—the renovation of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery is to be completed by July 4, 2006, reinstating two crucial local photography venues.

As usual, smaller commercial galleries bore most of the burden of bringing new photography to Washington in 2005. Too bad local artists weren’t as busy: This year, the few standouts included Julee Holcombe, whose exhibition at Conner Contemporary Art showcased her inspired Old Masters–go–digital style; Jason Falchook, whose contribution to Fusebox’s “Landscaping” show displayed a welcome maturation in his work; and James W. Bailey and Noelle Tan (see below).

Here’s hoping for a better year in 2006. Until then, here’s one critic’s list of the top local photography shows of 2005—all nine of them:

1. “André Kertész” at the National Gallery of Art This was easily the best of the big retrospectives of 2005, not only for the quality of the artist’s work—which remains cutting-edge even decades after the fact—but also for the curators’ decision to organize the thing more or less chronologically. This bit of traditionalism paid off: Seeing Kertesz’s style develop over time enabled visitors to sense the ebbs and flows of the photographer’s professional and personal fortunes, creating a long and engaging narrative arc not entirely separate from the subject matter he photographed.

2. “Burnversions” at the Reston Community Center As subject matter goes, cemetery statuary, vintage signs, and views from moving cars are perfectly adequate. But the violent processes James W. Bailey uses on his film and prints makes them seem extraordinary. Influenced by memories of fire-damaged photographs he saw as a child, Bailey heats, pricks, and slashes his materials, creating phantasmagorical results that lend themselves to extended visual exploration.

3. “Gina Brocker: Photographs From the Series ‘The Donovans and Other Settled Travellers’ ” at Irvine Contemporary This selection of 11 images stemmed from Brocker’s monthslong stay with a group of Irish Travellers settled forcibly by the government. Under dreary, overcast skies, a large extended family hovers between joy and violence, between mobility and stasis. Compelling even in this small sampling, the project presents hard truths painted in soft color.

4. “Shomei Tomatsu: Skin of the Nation” at the Corcoran Gallery of Art Tomatsu, little known in the United States, is one of Japan’s photographic giants—and for good reason. In his five-decade career, Tomatsu has documented an astonishingly wide array of subjects in both black-and-white and color, including relics of Japan’s traditional past, tensions between Okinawans and the U.S. military, protests and sexual experimentation of the ’60s, and, most famously and achingly, the scars of atomic-bomb survivors. The show’s sweep was mesmerizing, undercut only by a needlessly complicated organizational scheme.

5. “Noelle Tan: Latent” at the District of Columbia Arts Center Tan, a 30-something Washingtonian, creates photographs dominated by either white or black space, confining her subjects to a small area limned in charcoal gray. Whether portraying dogs, light poles, or picnic tables, Tan’s work invites us into an isolated, miniature universe that’s moody, mysterious, and unlike anything created by her contemporaries.

6. “Lida Moser: 50 Years of Photographs” at Fraser Gallery Bethesda Now in her 80s and living in the Washington area, Moser had a distinguished but underappreciated career as a black-and-white documentarian. As this 23-piece show demonstrated, she had a special knack for photographing architecture, turning skyscrapers into abstract-expressionist stripe paintings and office lobbies into alien no-places. But she was equally adept at capturing people, from expectant Scottish paradegoers to jazzman Charles Mingus, whose energy, in her interpretation, positively surrounded him.

7. “Reflections of France” at the Kathleen Ewing Gallery Among great Parisian photographers—Kertész, Atget, Brassai, Cartier-Bresson—Willy Ronis is considered at best an also-ran. But this 46-work exhibition suggested that he merits full membership in that elite club. Yes, some of his images are overly nostalgic. But others tease multilayered narratives from found scenarios or document life’s little surrealities, such as a group of nuns in full habit walking in a straight line through an idyllic wood.

8. “Lewis and Clark Revisited: A Trail in Modern Day,” at the Department of the Interior Museum It’s only natural that an exhibition on the route taken by Lewis and Clark mounted 200 years later would highlight such long-term physical changes as the construction (and destruction) of bridges, dams, and nuclear power plants. But what was unexpectedly moving was photographer Greg MacGregor’s ability to find subjects affected by more recent events: a boulder sacred to the Mandan that was carelessly moved for a highway turnoff, a swimming pool in a “new town” constructed to house Native Americans displaced by floodwaters.

9. “Barbara Probst: Exposures” at G Fine Art Barbara Probst’s approach to fashion shoots is hardly intended to flatter her sitters: She trains multiple cameras from different angles and distances, then flips their shutters simultaneously. The result is a series of images unified by time but not by much else—the anatomical illustration of a moment.
Two artists whose local shows didn’t quite make my list deserve credit for pushing the boundaries of photography. One is the famed portrait painter Chuck Close, whose exhibition at the David Adamson Gallery included four close-up holograms of the artist’s head convincing enough to scare the bejeezus out of you. The second is the relatively unknown Lucie Duval, whose work appeared in a group show at the Canadian Embassy. Duval photographs landscapes from her native country, slices the resulting transparencies into smaller pieces, inserts them individually into mason jars, and arranges the jars into a matrix. When backlit, her pieces becomes concise, striking commentaries on the commodification of nature—a phenomenon that has been precipitated in no small part by Duval’s chosen medium. CP

Saturday, September 10, 2005

"Burnversions" Reviewed by Washington City Paper Art Critic Louis Jacobson

"Cemetery Savior II" by James W. Bailey

"St. Louis Cathedral" by James W. Bailey

"Aloha Motel" by James W. Bailey

Above images referenced by Mr. Jacobson in his review in the Washington City Paper.

"Woman at the Tomb" by James W. Bailey

"Lakeside Theatre No. 1" by James W. Bailey

"Causeway Storm" by James W. Bailey

Above images published in the Washington City Paper.

Welcome to Hoodoo, America!

"Yeah, you rite, cher! My prices just went up!" - The Right Reverend James W. Bailey

Management at Black Cat Bone is excited to report that the Right Reverend James W. Bailey's current exhibition, "Burnversions" , has been reviewed by art critic Louis Jacobson of the Washington City Paper.
Brother James is currently on vacation at an undisclosed isolated fishing camp in the bayous of Louisiana just outside of New Orleans working on a 50,000 word epistle review of the Hoodoo film, Skeleton Key, and has issued the following statement by satellite phone:

"I am deeply grateful to Mr. Jacobson for his thoughtful review of 'Burnversions'. I lined the floor of the exhibition gallery with blessed brick dust ground from from a brick from St. Louis #1 Cemetery in New Orleans and issued a prayer to the spirits to invite Mr. Jacobson to cross over it. I so greatly appreciate him doing so.

I am also very appreciative of the Washington City Paper publishing his review and thereby transmitting the positive power of Hoodoo through the print and online media to the many wounded bodies and minds of those who have been burned in their personal lives - you know them when you see them, as they walk among us in sadness and anger over the emotional crimes that have been committed against them.

Oh, children, just touch the paper the review is printed on and know that 'Burnversions' stands at the ready to liberate your lost soul through the spiritual energy of burned photographs.

Are you tired of thinking about that person that screwed you over, lied to you, cheated on you, broke your heart and twisted your mind with their games?

If so, child, healing is on the way. Just send me those photographs of all those bad, mean and evil people that have burned you and let the Hoodoo power of 'Burnversions' set your spirit free from all that pain.

On a personal note, I also want to say that I'm especially honored that Mr. Jacobson mentioned my name in his review in the company of Mr. Pete Towndsend - a man Who has always had his mojo working right!

I hope all who read this will consider participating in the 'Burnversions' collage. Please send your photograph of the person who has burned you to me by October 15. Simply write on the back of the photo what the person did to you. Please see the 'Burnversions' project web site for details.
God Bless all."

Washington City Paper Vol. 25, No. 34 Aug. 26 - Sept. 1, 2005

The Medium is the Message by Louis Jacobson

“Burnversions” - At the Reston Community Center to Aug. 31

When we look at photography, we mostly consider the image—the things it portrays, the style the photographer has used to capture them. Only rarely do we consider the physical aspects of the medium to be an integral part of a photograph’s artistic impact. And only in the work of an artist like James W. Bailey do we find photographs in which the artistic value of the print actually exceeds that of the image.

Bailey, a native Mississippian, has worked extensively in New Orleans and now lives in Virginia. His past projects have grappled with drive-by shootings in New Orleans and the Southern African-American tradition of the bottle tree. His current 16-work exhibition at the Reston Community Center showcases the technique he calls “rough edge photography,” in which Bailey deliberately sabotages his film at multiple stages to produce one-of-a-kind prints. According to his artist’s statement,

Bailey’s experimental...technique involves exploring the “death of chemically developed negatives and prints” through the use of found 35mm source cameras he purchases in thrift stores.

His process incorporates the violent manipulation of unexposed film, developed negatives and prints. Undeveloped film may be subjected to intense heat or pin pricks through the film canister. Developed negatives are burned, scratched, slashed or cut, as are the prints. In some cases, the original negative is melted onto the final print. The found camera that is used to shoot a particular narrative series of source photographs is frequently smashed upon completion of the series.

This may sound as showy and mindless as Pete Townshend’s smashing his guitar at the end of a show. But Bailey’s process is intellectually grounded—it’s partly a reaction to the sudden dominance of “clean” digital photography—and it creates emotionally weighty and visually compelling artworks. Though Bailey began practicing rough-edge photography only in 2001, he writes that it emerged from a searing experience he had when he was 11:

I watched a farmhouse burn down on property near my grandfather’s farm in Mississippi. I pulled from the wreckage a smoldering wooden box that contained a collection of scorched family photographs. I extinguished the fire from the photographs, spread them out on the ground and arranged them in a square, one next to another. It was the most haunting thing I have ever seen. The charred remains [were an] image history of a whole family. Burned remnants of mythology.
Blackened eyes peering behind charcoal. Smokey residue smeared over lost memories. I have never forgotten the image of the collage I created that day. There is no one photograph that could convey the emotional impact of that collage.

The subject matter of Bailey’s images in the Reston show is predominantly cemetery statuary—angels and religious symbols, mainly—though a couple of street scenes from New Orleans are included as well. The cemetery images have a moody, introspective cast that fits well with the project, and the hellfire evoked by the scarring resonates with the religious imagery.

Still, rarely have the nominal subjects of a photographic project been so inconsequential. Viewers will lose themselves not in the imagery but in the random forces of chemical and physical desecration that partially blot out what is being shown. The works in the exhibition, most of them made in 2004, are so visually complex that they demand that viewers peer directly into the print from just an inch or two away.

Take Cemetery Savior II. It’s a combination of two separate views of a religious statue with arms stretched out, but the surface of the work is riven by blistering, browning, and faulting. White dots from pinpricks add a celestial touch, while a burned portion ends in a delicate wisp of charcoal that gives the work a sense of three-dimensionality.

Or take St. Louis Cathedral. In addition to faulting patterns, this photograph is marred by the partial peeling of its layer of emulsion. Bubbled, almost cellular-looking forms swoop and swerve in all directions; where the layer is detached entirely it leaves behind an enigmatic void. Other photographs feature a wealth of other unexpected effects—ripples, tears that look like tiny knife cuts, moldlike masses, fireball-style burn patterns, constellations of flares, and enamelized mounds of charred material.

Eventually, the statuary backdrops of the defaced images become somewhat monotonous, with the interspersed street scenes providingwelcome visual relief—as well as a suggestion of a direction in which Bailey might fruitfully take his technique further. In an image of a motel, the bricks of the unassuming building actually seem to be buckling and melting as you watch. And in a street scene photographed from inside a car, a pedestrian gazes blankly past the camera as the photograph seemingly devolves into what looks like a mess of spilled milk and bacterial colonies.

The show was designed to incorporate another project, also titled Burnversions, in which members of the public were invited to send Bailey a photograph of a person who had “burned” them, with the story of the incident written on the back. Without offering names or identifying features, these photographs were sliced and diced and put into a collage. When the show is taken down, the collage will be sent to a Hoodoo priest in New Orleans for burning “as part of a ritual of spiritual healing.” Bailey promises to scatter the ashes across the Mississippi River on Nov. 1—All Saints’ Day—so that “these ashes to ash memories...float down the Great River of Life to the Gulf of Mexico; and from there, across the planet, and hopefully, out of the mind and memories of those who have been harmed...”

The artist is an adherent of Hoodoo, so this process obviously has deep meaning to him. But Bailey has a habit of adding elaborate, interactive codas to his photographic work, and this show is no exception. (For the drive-by project, for instance, he didn’t stop at photographing passers-by at murder sites but rather went on to send the results to randomly selected residents of New Orleans and then record their reactions.) The collage-turned-burnt-offering may not appeal to everyone. But even those who don’t buy the “ritual of spiritual healing” line can still appreciate the boldly creative visual vocabulary that Bailey, with his arsenal of defacement, has brought to the photographic arts.

Friday, January 07, 2005

"Burned Love Letter"

"Burned Love Letter" - "Rough Edge Photography" by James W. Bailey

"Burnversions" - This Summer Things Are Really Going to Heat Up!


“Burnversions” - “Rough Edge Photography” by James W. Bailey

Ever been burned by someone? Here’s your chance to get it out of your system!

James W. Bailey
(WPA/Corcoran Artist Directory – Page 370)
Force Majeure Studios
11196 Silentwood Lane
Reston, VA 20191
Ph: 703-476-1474
Cell: 504-669-8650
Artist web site:
Burnversions web site:

(Reston, Va) Have you ever been lied to by a close friend, or cheated on by your husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend? How about back-stabbed by a relative or deceived by a child? Been fired from a job by your boss for no reason or financially screwed over by a business associate?

In other words, have you ever been burned? If you have, and haven’t we all, what version of a burn did you suffer? How angry did it make you? Are you over it yet? If not, your summer is about to really heat up at a super-hot art exhibit in Reston.

During the month of August, “Burnversions”, a solo exhibition of “Rough Edge Photography” by the experimental Mississippi photographer, and Reston resident, James W. Bailey, will be on exhibit at Reston Community Center at Hunters Woods in Reston, Virginia.

If you’re still steaming over being burned and want to participate in a unique art exhibit designed to help feel your pain and ease your emotional overload, you will not want to miss this unique cutting-edge exhibition.

“ ‘Burnversions’ is conceived to allow the audience to participate in a very personal way in exploring the residue of severed relationships that have melted down after existing beyond their natural life cycle,” says Bailey.

What happens when the relationships between a person and his friends, family, political ideology or religious beliefs catch on fire and disintegrate? What do we become when the most intimate connections in our life go up in smoke? And more importantly, is it really possible for us to move beyond the emotional trauma of being burned by someone we trust or who is in a position of power over us?

‘Burnversions’ seeks to examine these severed emotional connections and to simultaneously offer a point of healing and reconciliation for the emotionally wounded members of the audience who want to participate in the ‘Burnversions’ Photo Collage portion of the exhibit.”

Bailey describes “Burnversions” as a Littoral Art Project that is designed to actively involve the audience in a participatory way in the exhibition: “This exhibition will feature a unique photo collage work of art that will be created from submissions of original photographs by participants. I am encouraging people to send me one photograph of a person who has ‘burned’ them. I’m asking the participants to write on the back of the photograph what this person did to them - and, please, no names of any of the parties!

These original photographs will be defaced, burned, cut and scratched beyond recognition, diced up and rearranged. Nobody will be able to identify anyone in any of the photos. As a matter of fact, the photographs will be so manipulated in a puzzle like fashion that it will be impossible for me to tell what individual parts match together to form one of the original images.

The photographs will be so entirely defaced that even the people who gave them to me will not be able to identify them. These manipulated images will be re-contextualized into an original work of photo collage art that will be mounted behind glass.

After the exhibition closes, the ‘Burnverions’ photo collage work of art will be taken to New Orleans and burned by a Hoodoo priest as part of a ritual of spiritual healing. To complete the project, I will be scattering the ashes from the incinerated photo collage across the Mississippi River in New Orleans on November 1- All Saints Day.

The ‘Burnversions’ Photo Collage portion of the exhibition is designed to help the emotionally wounded let go of the memories of those who have hurt them. These ashes to ash memories will float down the Great River of Life to the Gulf of Mexico; and from there, across the planet, and hopefully, out of the mind and memories of those who have been harmed who contributed their photo to the project.”

Bailey explains his Littoral Art philosophy for his exhibition: “Usually, an artist hangs work on a wall, invites friends and family to come to an opening reception, enjoys the ego building experience of a few celebratory pats on the back and everyone goes home. I wanted to create with ‘Burnversions’ a deeper and more meaningful relationship between the exhibit and the people who will come to see it.

Littoral Art is an art practice coined by the artist, Bruce Barber. Basically, the belief is that art has the power liberate the human spirit and to effect deep change in society. Art is frequently caught up in the detached experience of people looking at objects in a museum or gallery.

‘Burnversions’ offers an opportunity for people to actually contribute to the exhibition by submitting their own personal photographs. The idea for burning them as a collection at the end of the exhibition and scattering them to the winds over the Mississippi River is symbolic of letting go of emotional baggage.

New Orleans is my second home and a mystical place that understands the spiritual symbolism of this act. It’s all about letting go…and having someone to help you do that.”


The featured element of “Burnversions” will be Bailey’s critically acclaimed photographs. Bailey’s experimental “Rough Edge Photography” technique involves exploring the “death of chemically developed negatives and prints” through the use of found 35mm source cameras he purchases in thrift stores.

His process incorporates the violent manipulation of unexposed film, developed negatives and prints. Undeveloped film may be subjected to intense heat or pin pricks through the film canister. Developed negatives are burned, scratched, slashed or cut, as are the prints. In some cases, the original negative is melted onto the final print. The found camera that is used to shoot a particular narrative series of photographs is frequently smashed upon completion of the series.

The subjection of Bailey’s film negatives and prints to his process, combined with the destruction of the source camera, results in a unique image that can not be duplicated: each “Rough Edge Photography” piece is an original work of art. The artist does not produce prints or authorized reproductions of his images.


Born in Columbus, Mississippi, in 1959, Bailey is a self-taught artist/photographer and an experimental imagist writer. His art focus also includes Littoral Art projects that explore the fleeting moments of cross-cultural communicative intersections; film projects, including the short film, Talking Smack; “Wind Painting”, a unique naturalistic art practice inspired by the vanishing Southern African-American cultural tradition of the Bottle Tree; and street photography centered on the hidden cultural edges of inner city New Orleans life.

Bailey’s experimental imagist literary works include, The Black Velvet Smash and the Missing Gospel of William S. Burroughs, Cold Dark Matters, Eastern 304, Killing Film Noir, and, two books of poetry, The Despised American Edition and Southern Standard Time, all published by Force Majeure Press. He has also written a full-length feature film screenplay, The Cold, a crime drama based on a true story set in New Orleans, which is currently in pre-production development.

“Burnversions” - A solo exhibition of the “Rough Edge Photography” by experimental photographer, James W. Bailey, on exhibit at the Reston Community Center at Hunters Woods in Reston, Virginia.

Experimental Mississippi artist, and Reston resident, James W. Bailey, presents a collection of his “Rough Edge Photography” that explores the residue of severed relationships. Bailey’s unique photographic style incorporates the violent scratching, slashing and burning of his prints and negatives. This exhibition will also feature a unique work of photo collage art created from original photographs submitted by individuals who have been “burned” by others.

Exhibition will run from August 1 - 30. Exhibit is free and open to the public.

Reston Community Center at Hunters Woods 2310 Colt Necks Road, Reston, Virginia. For directions, see the Reston Community Center’s web site at

If you would like to participate in the “Burnversions” Photo Collage, simply mail your original photo to James W. Bailey, Force Majeure Studios, 11196 Silentwood Lane, Reston, Virginia 20191. Do not include any names, or any other identifying marks, on the front or back of the photograph. You are encouraged to briefly describe on the back of the photo what the person did to you. By mailing the original photograph to the artist you are agreeing to give it to the artist for the purpose of it being used to create an original work of photo collage art that will be burned and destroyed.

“Burnversions” WEB SITE:

"X Girl Friend # 1"

"X Girl Friend #1" - "Rough Edge Photography" by James W. Bailey