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by Rebecca M. Alvin

One of the highlights of this year’s Whitney Biennial was an installation by Lyle Ashton Harris that incorporates video, journals, slides, and photographs into a multimedia flashback to the 1980s and 90s when the images were originally captured. Titled Once (Now) Again, the piece included images that are part of Harris’ larger project, The Ektachrome Project. Although Harris has been coming to Provincetown for some time and is represented here, his first solo show here opens this Friday, August 4, at the Albert Merola Gallery. Simply titled Photographs, it, too, will include images from that larger project.

Regarding the Ektachrome Project’s genesis, Harris explains, “I rediscovered the body of slides upon my return from Ghana in late 2012/2013 after having deposited all of the slides in my mother’s home in the Bronx when I went to Rome in 2000. So it’s a rediscovery of these images, these particular moments from the 80s and 90s and seeing – not from a nostalgic standpoint – but just seeing how they could resonate today, and also imagining the future.”

Self Portrait, Rome, 1992 (2015 chromogenic print, 20.5 x 15”)

The images are varied. Many are snapshots of friends, family, lovers, etc. Born in the Bronx, Harris has traveled the world, which brings a diversity to his images as well as to his overall perspective. He credits his grandfather, an amateur photographer, and photographer Nan Goldin, as inspirations and sees his use of photography as informed by a documentary impulse.

While they do serve as documentation of a particular place and time, the images in the show also raise ideas of intersectionality in terms of race and sexuality. Harris emphasizes that while, of course, the work has a sociopolitical context, as an artist, it is not only this content that concerns him. “The formal qualities, lighting and chiaroscuro, and color… I’m very much interested in this,” he says.

The show at Albert Merola Gallery will include images from the Archive as well as collage. The individual images themselves are open to what a viewer might bring to them, but as a collection, they tell a story of identity, travels, and a personal history that we are invited to witness, even if we do not have all the details. His collage, Love Split embeds a variety of personal and artistic images into a shared context by including a newspaper article about John F. Kennedy, Jr., a cultural clue that places the whole image in a specific period in time.

Love Split (2016, archival inkjet print, 53.25 x 39.75”)

Of course, some will not necessarily share this reference, particularly those who are too young to remember it. But Harris says he’s found there is some other indirect connection. “For the younger generation today, who obviously have [only] read about that particular period, there’s something about what they encounter in the images that speaks to them in some way that I had not imagined before,” he explains. Perhaps it is something about the materials used, photography, video, slides—all elements of media, which is of course such a dominating aspect of contemporary culture. Photography itself has become a part of everyone’s lives in an integral way, no longer the domain of shutterbug hobbyists and professionals, but an everyday process we all engage in: documenting and posting our life experiences through our phones.

Harris agrees the use of “old media” in his work has a certain impact. For Harris, using Ektachrome slides specifically connects with his grandfather, who also shot Ektachrome, and with his childhood. “The idea of seeing old slides, there’s something about that that evokes feelings about the past and my relationship with him, as well.”

Nightlife Detail, New York (circa early 1990s, 2015 chromogenic print, 12 x 16.5”)

As he was preparing for the show, he again had a moment of rediscovery. Unpacking the images for the show at Albert Merola, he realized that a figure in shadows in Love Split was actually the former boyfriend who brought him to Provincetown 15 years ago, bringing him full circle. “In a way my connection to Provincetown is embedded within the show itself,” he says with laugh.

Lyle Ashton Harris: Photographs is on view at Albert Merola Gallery, 424 Commercial St., Provincetown, August 4 – 17, with an opening reception on Friday, August 4, 8 – 10 p.m. For more information call 508.424.4424 or visit

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Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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