“Slowdancing to Slayer”: A Summer Fling at Cinders

Photographer Tod Seelie’s first solo exhibition captures both youthful exuberance and ambivalence.

poster for Tod Seelie

Tod Seelie "Slowdancing To Slayer"

at Cinders Gallery
in the Bushwick area
This event has ended - (2008-07-17 - 2008-08-09)

In Reviews by Hannah Brehm 2008-08-06 print

“Slowdancing to Slayer”, at Cinders Gallery in Brooklyn, captures all of the promises and disappointments of summer. In June, we welcome longer, more carefree days of sandals, sundresses and rooftop barbeques, but by the beginning of August we are tired of the dreadful heat, impromptu thunderstorms and sleepless nights. So it is with photographer Tod Seelie’s first solo exhibition. It is playful, indulgent and peppered with moments of conscience quickly abandoned in the interest of diversion. Though many of the images were collected from Seelie’s experience of life on tour (as a nouveau Huck Finn on a Mississippi River houseboat and on the concert gauntlet with the cacophonous musical duo Matt & Kim), the tone of the show is rather ambivalent. It seems to desperately cling to youthful rebellion, whimsy and revelry, but its undertones are replete with malaise, confusion and violence.

The exhibition is primarily comprised of portraits or documentary-style snapshots of Seelie’s friends and colleagues, as well as community members and concert attendees. As an example of the ambiguous relationship the show has with whimsy, one might consider the fact that a Bugs Bunny costume makes two appearances: once as an innocuous, nostalgic figure and then again as a quasi-violent prankster getting his due from two vicious dogs. One of his most successful articulations of sobriety can be found in the insightful portrait entitled Porch Ridin’ (2007). It is a tightly composed depiction of two contemplative male figures on the dilapidated porch of a freight car. Seelie successfully communicates an undeniable sense of restlessness and tension, as one imagines the car progressing with screeches and lurches for miles of endless track.

Tod Seelie
Porch Ridin', 2007
16.5 x 25
Digital C Print
edition of 6

However, it may be argued that any credibility the photographer established with his ability to capture the frenetic tone of nomadic, creative, youthful existence is called into question with his ridiculously staged zombie portraits. Specifically in Lucy Blood (2006) the subject’s face has been made up to look pale, beaten, and bloody. She stares at the camera with an expression that verges on confrontation, but is ultimately resigned to just barely threatening to suck your brains out. It is unclear what Seelie is attempting to say about his personal experiences or about being a member of the current creative class. Perhaps this is exactly the point. It could be that a cohesive theme and a sense of soullessness is intentional in “Slowdancing to Slayer”, unless one is to stretch her imagination for an explanation based on the vacuous obsession with remaining young (or young at heart) forever.

Tod Seelie
Lucy Blood, 2006
15 x 15
Digital C Print
edition of 8

The landscapes are strangely the least raucous, most compelling images included in the show. Bike Tide (2004) is a truly stunning image of a bicycle half-floating, half-sunken into a pallid lake set against a looming, mountainous backdrop. There is a melancholic, thoughtful, restrained quality in the slightly diagonal composition, and the muted tones temper any underlying suggestions of violence. Seelie is well known for his commitment to bike culture, with his involvement in Critical Mass, and his professed love for his Williamsburg bike shop, personal aspects that clearly influenced the photographer’s decision to treat this subject with such reverent tenderness. Mattress Field (2006) is successful in a similar way. One gets the sense that life on the road, although exhilarating at times, is truly exhausting. The filthy abandoned mattress amidst a grove of trees exudes a lonesome homesickness, and one might extend the metaphor if Seelie is indeed making a statement about the experience of existing as a member of an unstable, independent creative class, searching for his artistic voice as he roams infinitely from place to place.

Tod Seelie
Bike Tide, 2004
15 x 15
Digital C Print
edition of 8

It seems fitting to consider Seelie’s practice as akin to Ryan McGinley’s, and derivative of Larry Clark. All three photographers are undeniably committed to the project of giving voice to a conflicted, marginalized and youthful existence. However, McGinley’s successful communication of exuberance and unabashed conventional defiance can be seen as an alternative to Clark’s excellence in his dark representations of marginalized, abuse-laden cultures. The relationship between McGinley and Clark is clear, whereas Seelie’s position in this triangulation is a bit more obscure. He seems to want to articulate the best of both his peer and his predecessor, but that aim becomes muddled by his divided focus. It could be that in several years, Seelie will feel more comfortable with the direction he and his photography will take. It may also be that his point is not knowing what to say about contemporary culture, or which way it is headed.

Hannah Brehm

Hannah Brehm. Hannah is a recovering academic. She spent three years on the west coast at the University of California, Davis, the University of British Columbia, and the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, immersing herself in the history of art. She now resides in Brooklyn, and currently works as a researcher for rare and collectible art and design books. But when she returns home every day she wonders how she can reconcile this with the poster of Lenin that hangs on the wall beside her desk. Her highest aspirations are to be a writer and a thinker, and to never lose hope that ideas are the most valuable currency. » See other writings

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