In recent years, a number of photographers have turned their attention from making pictures to coding the masses of existing images, and more and more projects revolving around found photographs have been published in books and shown in exhibitions. It’s an understandable spike when we consider the challenge of finding freshness under the pressure of the billions of photographs that are taken every day. But one exciting contribution to this conversation comes not from a photographer who has laid down her camera out of exasperation, but from the painter Elisheva Biernoff. Bierfnoff, whose work was recently shown at Fraenkel gallery in San Francisco, paints anonymous snapshots, employing a painstaking process to transform found images.
In one of Biernoff’s pieces, which are only about 3 ½ inches in height or width, two girls in red swimsuits pause their playing in the sprinkler to flash smiles. They’re barefoot in the front yard of a suburban home. Biernoff’s rendering of the photograph recreates both the blown-out highlights on the trees lining the street and the photograph’s yellowed color. Another piece shows a woman in a blue skirt and white blouse posing against the stump of fallen tree. She’s holding glasses between her fingers and looking up, half-smiling. The images Biernoff shows us vary slightly in their candidness, but she never avoids the bumpy, clumsier facts of the photographs. Her choice not to polish out any details while painting the photographs gives the pieces magnetic uncanniness. At a birthday party, a shot of a man sporting a skinny black tie is interrupted by a woman’s arm poking in from the right side of the frame. Stretching the quick, honest gestures of these photographs with her meticulous process of painting on tiny surfaces, Biernoff translates the language of photography eloquently, laying elements of the medium bare that might go unseen without the paint.
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