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Shards of Memory: David Prifti - Buzzweep

Shards of Memory: David Prifti

By jason@panopticongallery.com (Jason Landry)

I never got a chance to meet photographer David Prifti before he died of pancreatic cancer in 2011. I have however seen his brilliance in exhibitions at Gallery NAGA in Boston, and most recently in the exhibition Prifti: Drawn By Light at

His work went beyond the act of taking a picture and going into the darkroom and creating that perfect print on a piece of paper. The words “perfect” or “shape” need not apply. It was his uniqueness as an artist and his ability to bring the most obscure objects to life. Things that we normally would have thrown away because they were broken, chipped or old, he would repurpose in order to create his works of art. What we originally associated these objects to be, suddenly had taken on another meaning — another life. Prifti’s approach to creating a photographic image sets his work apart from the traditional view of what we see or think when we think of photography. Granted, he did make some traditional photographs, but for the most part, we remember him for his nontraditional methods and techniques, through which we in the photography industry refer to as an alternative process.

The title of this exhibition hints back to the pure definition of what early photography was known for: drawing with light. Some of his most noteworthy pieces were created as a way to reflect on and highlight his family’s history. Prifti’s images came to life by applying a liquid emulsion onto intimate and the unlikeliest of objects, such as broken slats from old buildings, rocks, tin, ceramic, shards of metal, and even a section from a picket fence. His artist statement said that these objects were used as a way to resurrect them and create something new through a type of recycling and rebirth, showcasing their past existence — an idiosyncratic way of paying homage to his ancestors. These objects soon turned into art — images would appear, and these images were usually of faces.

Faces stare back at you throughout this exhibition. They play a big part in his work. Some of his source images are old family photographs, while some are newer and give you this feeling of nostalgia. As many contemporary photographers working today gravitate toward this fascination with “the gaze” as a way to homogenize their photographic canvas so that we are forced to look at everything else in the image, I don’t find that a concern when looking at Prifti’s images. I’m pretty certain that this contemporary trend wasn’t his concern either; rather his investigation through portraiture was purely personal, as noted in his artist statement, “an evolving exploration of the sitter and myself.” He was close to his subjects — close and intimate. They were family, friends and students.

Gaze, 2003, a 12×12 inch photo emulsion image on metal was the piece in this exhibition that drew me in. An old piece of metal — quite possibility the bottom of an old paint can is now the surface from …read more

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