Piotr Uklanski is no stranger to the lurid. His exhibit “Fatal Attraction: Piotr Uklanski Photographs” reveals this penchant. The Polish-born artist moved to the United States after the fall of communism, and found his calling as a photographer and artist after viewing a Kodak how-to book titled “The Joy of Photography”, with all its garishly colored, frozen moments of happiness and almost artificial beauty. Uklanski was so enamored and captivated by the book that he set out on his own creation of “The Joy of Photography”, a 10-year project that saw him reproducing scenes that were featured in the original Kodak book. Unlike other artists who appropriate art that is already made, with subtle or no changes, Uklanski adds his own touch by looking deeper into the subject of the work itself and revealing its hidden features. Many of the works featured in the exhibit are from this venture. “Untitled (Island)” is a perfect example of this endeavor, with the manufactured blue of the water bringing out the unintended pink hues of the island itself. Another picture features a rushing waterfall whose waters appear to be nothing more than a mass of white, while a third image of vibrantly colored but completely out of focus flowers presents a conversation of missed opportunity. The ironic nature of presentation – the kitschy manner of original Kodak photography contrasted with the ones transformed by Uklanski – begs the question of whether he is being humorous or sincere in his devotion to the theme.
Though his project “The Joy of Photography” can be interpreted as tawdry to some, Uklanski is also no stranger to controversy. A series of his called “Untitled (The Nazis)”, which featured photographs of various different iterations of Nazis in film throughout history, caused public outcry when presented. A selection is present in this exhibit. Much like “The Joy of Photography”, Uklanski chose to highlight the underlying colors of the photos, which feature bright pinks and red prints. The almost Pop Art-like scene is a disturbing overlay to the terror represented by the subjects.
Fatal Attraction also features other, milder photographic ventures by Uklanski. “Untitled (Inga Rubinstein)” features a close-up of a pair of ruby-red lips in the shape of a heart. “Untitled (Skull)” is a photo made up of human bodies twisted and shaped into the form of a skull. A memento mori, the picture is reminiscent of Charles Allen Gilbert’s famed “All is Vanity”. Uklanski reveals himself as more than just a humorous or contentious character with these works, which lend a feeling of beauty to what some might consider a divisive exhibit.
Fatal Attraction: Piotr Uklanski Photographs is on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art until August 16.