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The camera lies

An artist manipulates old portraits into wacky creations, proving photography can do more than simply record a moment in time.

Published July 28, 2005

[Images from Mark Mothersbaugh
Above, Mark Mothersbaugh, Kowboy XY, 2004-2005, photographic print. Below, Baby Anita, photographic print.

TAMPA - Maybe his own fame and the invasions of privacy it brings inspired Mark Mothersbaugh to craft the identity theft he visits on vintage photographic portraits at the new arts venue Flight 19. The several-dozen manipulated prints created by the artist, writer and musician (of Devo fame and also a composer for film and television) are lined up on brick walls like a sideshow of sometimes funny, sometimes creepy eccentrics.

By manipulating the photographic image, flipping and reprinting it, Mothersbaugh produces a mirror image with details he contorts, compresses or expands to make a new portrait that retains its burnished look of old age combined with new-age weirdness. Anyone who enjoyed the novel Geek Love will appreciate this rogues' gallery.

In Hand Some Man, a dapper gent poses with one hand hooked to the lapel of his tail coat. That gesture, mirrored, becomes winglike flaps sprouting from the man's chest. In Kindergarten Fuhrer, a young girl's head is transformed into an inverted triangle by pinching her features and exaggerating her pompadour hairdo into a wild haystack. It's balanced on another triangle formed by minimizing her shoulders, reduced to the shape of downhill ski slopes. The two triangles are connected by her neck, too thin to support such headgear in normal life.

That angularity is even more pronounced in Kowboy XY, who really does look like a chromosomal mishap. His cowboy hat, minimized to the size of a French tricorn, perches on top of his chiseled features that end in a deep V of a chin. His torso and arms are shrunk to birth-defect size, while his fuzzy chaps are huge parentheses. Between the man's forked legs is a shadow of his head that looks like a mutant tail hanging down.

Bottom Heavy Pug is given three nostrils, and Octobambino is a headless baby with eight limbs, some reversed so the digits are pointing the wrong way.

But Mothersbaugh seems more interested in amusing rather than shocking us. The clever titles alone elicit a smile. Most of all, the series challenges assumptions we hold about traditional portraiture and the trust we put in its documentation. Many indigenous tribes have shunned photographs of themselves, believing the act of being photographed steals their souls. Those who posed in these old portraits knew the camera would record them as they were because that was the job of photography. Now we understand that the medium can be as subversive and subjective as any other.

* * *

Also on view at Flight 19 are small collages by Giancarlo Rendina. Their long, narrative titles give a lot away, and some patrons may feel they take away the speculative pleasure of figuring out what they're about on your own. I liked their deadpan earnestness. Last Wish of a Cancer Patient - An Alternate Opinion Regarding News Coverage has on one side the painting of a man's face as he looks at a collaged photo of a nude woman, her back to us, wearing a holster and cowboy hat. The title implies that being sick with cancer somehow mitigates any sickness associated with voyeurism: Hey, the poor guy's dying so let him enjoy the peep show. All of these gemlike works contain loaded, cryptic messages rendered in deep, often garish color combinations that reinforce their in-your-face themes. Lennie Bennett can be reached at 727 893-8293 or


"Beautiful Mutants," photographic prints by Mark Mothersbaugh, and "Steeples," new work by Giancarlo Rendina, are at Flight 19, 601 Nebraska Ave., Tampa, through Sunday. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

[Last modified July 27, 2005, 09:54:07]

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