Michael Lease is showing at Chop Suey with a selection of digital prints blown up from birthday snapshots. Michael solicited friends and acquaintances for the photos, also asking to be put in contact with each contributor's mother, from whom he then requested written thoughts and birthday remembrances. Michael's correspondence with both the contributors and their mothers is all displayed in a binder, easily matched up with the photos on the walls.
Most of the photos are from the 70's and 80's, it's fun to look back at the Pac-Man pajamas and feathered hair. One kid is having his party at McDonald's with a McDonald's cake (do they still do that?) and a photo from the Bicentennial Year of 1976 features a cake covered with little paper American flags. A seven-year-old princess from 1985 is wearing a Happy Birthday tiara and leaning over a tablecloth of hearts to blow out her star-covered rainbow cake.
I've seen the exhibition twice; the first time was at the opening and it felt like a party, surrounded by all the photos of children and cakes and balloons - celebratory. The second time I was alone in the quiet gallery space and my encounter was much different, almost mournful. Most of the photos are of the moment, the moment of blowing out the birthday candles, the moment of wish-making and the exhalation of breath. It's a magic combination I hadn't considered before. Some of these little faces look so serious and intent on blowing out those candles and getting that wish, like they almost understand and are maybe even considering the worth of this acknowledgment of mortality. The all-white borders of the prints and white frames contributed to the more ethereal, elegiac feelings I had on my second visit.
Michael's last projects I saw, a photo-narrative remembrance of people from his life he has lost contact with, and his own fake obituary published in the Washington Post, had the same melancholy combination of the celebratory and mournful.