Curator’s Eye: Mighty Tacoma: Photographic Portrait 2010

Digital Romantics

While putting together its big seventy-fifth-anniversary show Mighty Tacoma: Photographic Portrait 2010, Tacoma Art Museum curator Rock Hushka scarcely saw any traditional photographs. “I didn’t look at prints,” says Hushka. “I looked at the photographers’ iPads as they flipped through images. I had to look at Flickr sets and artist blogs. A couple artists sent me something on Zenfolio. I had to find Kevin Lidtka through his Facebook page.” Only one photo in the show is a traditional silver print. “That shocked me, to be frank.” 

Kevin Lidtka, 705 Sunset, 2009, laser print, 20 x 30 inches

More typical is the HDR photo 705 Sunset by Lidtka, the youngest artist in the show. “HDR means ‘high dynamic range,’ multiple exposures on a digital camera,” Hushka says, “one severely underexposed, one with ‘correct’ exposure, one overexposed. And then through this software you can control the luminosity. You can pump up the drama.” 

Another tradition, Tacoma’s inferiority complex, is no longer part of the drama. “There’s no leaden self-deprecation, no sense they’re a second city to Seattle, no sense Tacoma’s not the place to be. They’re mining the city for its aesthetic potential.” 

Artists like Lidtka and Terry Rishel, whose HDR photo is called Tide Flats, focus on what was once Tacoma’s shame. “They celebrate gritty urban beauty for what it is: train tracks, billowing steam from the Simpson Paper Mill. How ironic that you can find something aesthetically pleasing in the place that once made Tacoma smelly,” Hushka says, noting that the included artists romanticize such scenes. “It’s a new kind of Romanticism with a capital ‘R,’ more influenced by the history of art than the history of the place. To me, it looks like the Impressionists when they were trying to figure out the new technology of their time, the steam engine, and the new lighting effects.” Possibly Hushka is influenced by TAM’s other seventy-fifth-anniversary show, The Movement of Impressionism: Europe, America and the Northwest. 

“The message is, Tacoma is beginning to be a profound source of inspiration for artists,” he says. “They don’t remember the Tacoma Aroma.” •

Mighty Tacoma: Photographic Portrait 2010
October 21–April 24


Cost of admission, in honor of TAM’s seventy-fifth anniversary: 75 cents (before 5 p.m.)

Cost of admission on Third Thursday: Free (5–8 p.m.)

Cost of learning how to work your own digital camera at TAM’s October 30 workshop: $55 ($45 for members)

TAM Impressionist paintings that resemble Lidtka’s and Rishel’s photos: Pissarro’s Fishing Port at Dieppe, Boudin’s Meuse River at Rotterdam

The new Tacoma aroma: Mighty Tacoma Ale, brewed for the 75 Years and Counting bash on October 21, 10 a.m.–8 p.m.