Focus on Art – November 2017

Focus on Art

By Rob Mohr

Color and Light Speak – Xill Fessenden, Fine Art Photographer 

Focus on art self portrait xill


“A photographer’s work is formed by the way she looks at life and the world around her.” —Annie Leibovitz (Main photographer for Vanity Fair magazine)

The rich texture of Xill Fessenden’s life, her actions to improve the quality of life at Lakeside, cooperative work with the indigenous people of Michoacan, ability to see the world with focus and insight, each, supported by her lifelong mastery of the challenging technical realities which engender her ‘fine art’ photographs, confirms Leibovitz’s reflection. Her innovative photography, imagination, aesthetic sensibility, intellect, and technical excellence, places Xill among an elite group of internationally acclaimed photographers who are shaping the future of photography.

Xill’s photo, The Fingerprint of the Artist, featured on the cover of Art and Beyond, a Chicago based art magazine, is an astounding image that is at once a portrait of the artist – unlike any in art history – an image with rich texture, line color, refined detail, luminosity, and juxtaposed realities (like those found in Rene Magritte’s paintings). It reveals an ethereal, introspective universe complete unto itself. The needle puncturing the artist’s finger, and the thread hanging both within and outside the frame, evoke pain we all share as it moves in and out of our lives.

For Xill, each photograph is an exploration, an adventure into the unknown, where she finds fascinating realities, worlds previously unseen. However, since the creation of the camera obscura over two thousand years ago, many still see a photo as a visual record of events, a child’s birthday or the war in Syria. A “selfie,” for example, is an ego-centric record of someone’s existence.

Art photography up until the 1980s was, with few exceptions – like photographs created by Man Ray, or the sensual photographs of Imogen Cunningham – limited by the medium, and an intense focus on composition of a significant visual event or pose, coupled with creative use of light, dark, and color. A mix of painting and photographs with multiple, contrasting realities, by artist like Robert Rauschenberg, also gained importance.

Digital photography’s technical capacity to capture and reproduce light, color and images in ways that encourages artistic interventions, caused violent upheavals, and sparked an ongoing struggle between conservative purist who resisted the digital world’s temptations, and progressives who saw the digital realm as an ‘app’ which enables creative outcomes. This break with optical reality destroyed film as a primary medium, and enabled everyone with a digital phone to become a photographer of sorts. In that moment the concept of visual truth was radically changed.

The formula for doing a good job in photography is to think like a poet.”

—Imogen Cunningham

While photography as a record of events continues to have an important role for artists, this digital freedom opened the way to create new realities, new ways of seeing light and color, to see beneath the surface, and to work at scales never imagined. Xill’s photo Alcatraz, (Calla Lily) – selected by Elizabeth Avedon, curator for Fotofest in Arles, France, to be included in an exhibition at The Center for Fine Art Photography in Colorado – represents this new way to see. Alcatraz is a sensual exploration of color, light and refined detail only possible in a digital reality. When confronted with a six foot tall presentation of Alcatraz the sensuality present in all forms life is eminently evident. Xill shared an important distinction, “My works are not manipulation of a photo, rather an intervention creating a statement of feeling. I don’t feel like I take a picture, but am given a picture.

focus on art alcatraz

Through her participation in art education for children with the Centro Cultural Axixic, work with the Centro Axixic de Bellas Artes, (CABA), involvement with indigenous communities in Michoacan, and her new undertaking, Galeria al Aire Libre Axixic (GALA), which includes the placement of metal frames for photos throughout Axixic Plaza. Her first three GALA presentations included photographs of generational families, children’s art, and historic pictures from Lakeside. In the coming months, GALA will continue to feature photos related to life and the environment of Lakeside. This project was designed “to transform people’s knowledge of the local environment,” promote participation in the life of the community, and entice residents to share communal time in the plaza.

My relationship with indigenous people has changed my quality of life. Their identity is much bigger than themselves. If I could open up as an insider rather than an outsider – that would make me happy.”

Xill Fessenden’s contributions to life at Lakeside are significant. Her life and works are gifts for the community. Her creative and enabling energy changes how we see and understand the world we live in.  

*On December 9 -11, 2017 Fiesta Purepecha, which Xill has organized for the past twenty years, will take place in the Ajijic Plaza. During the fiesta, indigenous communities from Michoacan will share their arts, culture, dance, and food.

*Volunteers are needed to help with the Fiesta.

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