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Native Sons - FotoFest Presents Six Texas-Based Photographers
September 15, 2006

HOUSTON, TEXAS (September 13, 2006) – Native Sons, a new exhibit created for FotoFest, takes an ironic, often humorous look at contemporary life in the Lone Star State. It is the second exhibition of the Inter-Biennial series, TALENT IN TEXAS, focusing on six Texas-based artists and their work.

Native Sons opens Thursday, October 12, 2006, 6 – 9pm at FotoFest Headquarters in Vine Street Studios, Downtown Houston. The exhibit continues through November 18, 2006. Gallery hours are Monday – Friday, 10am – 5pm; Saturday, noon – 6pm. The exhibition will be accompanied by two artist talks, featuring the six artists.

Native Sons is the second of five 2006–2007 Inter-Biennial Exhibits. FotoFest’s Inter-Biennial programming is designed to highlight the work of Texas-based artists as well as international artists not otherwise presented in Houston or the U.S.

The Texas exhibition presents very diverse photo-based work by six emerging Texas artists in Houston, Dallas and Austin. The Houston-based artists are Chuy Benitez, Young-Min Kang and Brian Piana. Max Kazemzadeh works in Dallas and Denton. Sterling Allen and David Woody are based in Austin. While their works are all photo-related, they run the gamut from traditional photography to drawing and painting, installation and digital production.

“It’s part of FotoFest’s mission to look at art locally and globally. We think a focus on things close to home gives us new perspectives and hopefully places Texas artists on an international stage,” say co-curators Jennifer Ward and Vinod Hopson. “We are interested in what is going on around us. We have watched several of the artists in this show for years and have followed their development.”

Ms. Ward, co-curator of the first TALENT IN TEXAS show Home and Garden, presented in 2004, is a native Texan whose Czech roots lie in cities like Shiner, San Antonio and the Texas Hill Country. Mr. Hopson, a self-described Yankee now working at DiverseWorks Artspace, was born and raised in New Jersey before moving to Texas in 1996. Together they bring an insider and outsider view to the exhibition. “It is our shared vision and love for the state and its people that inspires this show,” they note.

Chuy Benitez was born and grew up in El Paso, Texas. His photos of El Paso’s Mexican American neighborhoods function as a portrait of the city. Since moving to Houston, he has continued to focus on Mexican American life, embedding himself in the city’s political, social and cultural scenes. Whether it is ethnic grocery stores or the immigration protests in April 2006, he approaches the scene as an insider, an active participant. The panoramic format that he uses for his photography references murals, an important tradition in Mexican American culture.

Korean-born Young-Min Kang, who recently moved to Houston from Austin, examines the nature of the digital image with what seems like a persistent quest to move the image from the 2D world into the 3D world. Using various images of Texas-born President George W. Bush, Mr. Kang creates a monumental composite portrait of one of the world’s most powerful men. He assembles his 12-foot tall portrait of the President from strips of numerous images gathered off of the Internet.

Brian Piana, a former web designer, has embarked on obsessive, almost academic analyses of websites dealing with topics as diverse as politics, women on death row, suburban murderers, rap musicians and consumerism. The analyses take the form of large digital prints and larger wall-sized installations. The works read like Mondrian color-field paintings made from blocks of carefully considered colors. The colors hide deeper questions and examinations of contemporary life.

Max Kazemzadeh was born in Texas to a Persian family, educated in New York and now lives and works in Denton, Texas. He is a professor of Electronic Media Art at the University of North Texas. Mr. Kazemzadeh is showing two bodies of work. The first, Persian/American, touches on his family’s immigrant history in Texas and the ironies of immigrant life. His installation, Controlling the Wild West, takes a different direction, playing on traditional stereotypes of the American West. The high and low-tech installation is constructed from wooden dowels, coat hangers, zip ties and a book of Frederick Remington prints. The interactive installation replays a battle between American cowboys and Native Americans with a cinematic frenzy reminiscent of 1950’s Westerns.

Sterling Allen used to work in a one-hour photo lab. His habit of making extra copies of his favorite images went unnoticed for years. From these images, and others, Mr. Allen creates photo-based drawings. Drawn freehand, without the aid of projectors for tracing, Allen’s copies are inexact and exaggerated. Perspectives change, heads get bigger, arms and legs move. The images become caricatures. The mundane and everyday actions of the characters become odd narratives, played out like scenes from King of the Hill. He is one of the founders of the artists’ collective and art space Okay Mountain.

Dave Woody moved to Austin from his home state of Colorado and began photographing his new home. His large-format photographs are sensitive examinations of a “new place” - taken on walks through the woods and down small town streets. The quiet and still portraits show Texans at play, in rivers, on lakes, in the woods and on Main Streets in small towns. Mr. Woody’s photographs, the most traditional in this exhibition, are made with a large-format photography camera of the type that would have been used by Mathew Brady on the battlefields of the American Civil War. Like Sterling Allen’s drawings, Mr. Woody’s works appear to be parts of unfinished narratives.

Together these six artists represent a particularly ironic, wry and somewhat irreverent view of modern Texas. In the great tradition of Will Rogers, they often surprise you with their sophistication while playing at a hokey country-boy persona. They look at Texas society and Texan culture, often laughing at themselves in a way that seems peculiarly Texan. Their art practices are varied, from Allen’s drawings, Piana’s and Kang’s digital prints, to Kazemzadeh’s installations, Benitez’ digital collage and Woody’s straight photography.

Native Sons will be open to the public, free of charge, Monday – Friday, 10am – 5pm; Saturday, noon - 6pm, from October 12, 2006 through November 18, 2006 at FotoFest Headquarters at Vine Street Studios, 1113 Vine Street, Houston, Texas. For other information, please call 713/223-5522 ext. 19.

Artist Talks at FotoFest Headquarters
These Saturday events offer the public the opportunity to hear artists speak about their own work, the exhibit and future projects. The artist talks will be held at FotoFest Headquarters at Vine Street Studios, 1113 Vine St. They are free.

• October 21 at 2pm with Sterling Allen, Max Kazemzadeh, David Woody
• November 11 at 2pm with Chuy Benitez, Young-Min Kang, Brian Piana

Sponsors for FotoFest Inter-Biennial Exhibitions are the City of Houston through the Cultural Arts Council of Houston/Harris County, The Wortham Foundation, Margaret Regan and Fletcher Thorne-Thomsen Jr., FotoFest Board of Directors, Spacetaker, Tito's Vodka, and Larry Albert.

The list of FotoFest’s institutional funders and special funders for this exhibit is available on the FotoFest Web site,

For visuals or more information on this and other FotoFest Inter-Biennial programs, please contact Patti Stoddart at 713/ 223-5522 ext. 26 or

Press images from the exhibit can be downloaded at

For more information see the Native Sons web pages.