Saturday, March 04, 2006


Exhibition Proposal for The Dulles Toll Road Shootout
by photographers

James W. Bailey and Charles Neenan
There exists a tremendous focus on all things Toll Road. Whether it is the potential for privatization or the increase in toll fees to fund Metro Rail to IAD, the Toll Road is the key ingredient in the lives of most residents of northern Virginia. Community interaction with this event should be significant...and in a very positive, photographically avante garde, yet non-controversial manner.
The Dulles Toll Road Shootout will feature the dramatically contrasting photographic styles presented by experimental 35 mm black and white film photographer, James W. Bailey, and experimental digital photographer, Charles Neenan, in a themed two person exhibition wherein each photographer explores through the stylistic tension that exists between their photographic visions the community, personality, meaning, purpose, dangers and drama of the tensioned-filled life of the Dulles Toll Road that bisects Northern Virginia.
Bailey’s award winning “Rough Edge Photography” photographs are created by subjecting his thrift store purchased discarded found 35 mm automatic cameras to a host of abusive practices, from scratching the lenses with a pin, to purposely cracking the camera with a hammer to create light leaks. His black and white 35 mm negatives and prints are subjected to a similar tortuous process by being burned, scratched and torn.
Like any artist using oil, pencil, acrylic or other media, Neenan starts with a concept and a mental visualization of possibilities. He then shoots the subject, capturing upwards of 200 images looking for the critical mass needed to go forward. He then uses his “heart-thumping” test to determine the one or two images as a foundation for building his photographic statement. All Neenan’s strikingly colorful art, brilliant reds, deep blacks, and pastel greens and blues, is photographic in origin.
Digital photography has inexorably changed how artists and photojournalists capture images. Neenan likens film photographers in the new digital age to Luddites eschewing computers and resolutely continuing to compose letters on Underwood typewriters with the requisite carbon paper. His choice of image capture is a Canon digital SLR camera used by forward-thinking photojournalists and professional artisans worldwide.
Although Bailey and Neenan work at the extreme opposite ends of the currently available photographic technology, their conflicting aesthetic sensibilities converge in a unique way to present an aesthetically enhanced vision of humanity.
With an abiding respect for each other’s chosen style, but without either photographer giving an inch of ground for their respective passions and concerns for photography, Bailey and Neenan will ask the viewer of the images presented in The Dulles Toll Road Shootout to examine the world of the suburban commuter through extreme photographic binoculars that function to present a chaotic multidimensional view of the asphalt reality of the daily experience of many as they travel the Dulles Toll Road in search of jobs, money, culture, life and love.
Bailey’s and Neenan’s photographs will collide in a pugilistic and dramatic fashion to create an exciting presentation of a photographic interpretation of one of the major realities of existence for the typical Northern Virginian suburban citizen: The Commuter and His or Her Place on the Toll Road of Existence.


Within the world of contemporary fine art photography, there exists an ongoing and raging battle between photographic purists, many of whom advocate the supremacy of film photography, and the emerging digital photographers who openly embrace the latest cutting-edge photographic technology. Distilled to its simplistic elements, it is an ongoing war popularly referred to as the Battle of Film vs. Digital.
Bailey and Neenan represent the extreme ends of these two photographic expressions.
The natural tension that exists in the modern photographic context between Bailey’s 35mm film based experimental photography and Neenan’s experimental film and digital based photography provide the opening for an insightful examination of the natural tension that exists among the commuters who travel and the workers who work on the Dulles Toll Road in Northern Virginia.
The Dulles Toll Road reflects a central component of life for many citizens who live in the Northern Virginia region. It provides access to Washington, D.C. and other communities where people are employed. It stimulates commerce and interaction between communities. It provides jobs for those who are employed in its management, toll collection and maintenance. In short, the Dulles Toll Road is very much a living entity that is sustained through its use.
But being the large entity that it is, it creates a sense of fear, trepidation and hostility among many. It is overly-crowed, dangerous and intimidating to many, too fast or too slow depending on the vagaries of traffic and weather, and filled with potentially life-threatening hazards.
Although seldom examined within the world of art, within the tension filled reality of the Dulles Toll Road there exists spontaneous moments of aesthetic experience. In this first of a kind photography exhibition, Bailey and Neenan deploy their mutually antagonistic photographic obsessions to capture and present the found art that exists among the life forces that traverse and work on the Dulles Toll Road.

I am very familiar with Mr. Neenan’s work and consider him to be a friend and fellow photographer. I would also like to point out that “Nuclear San Francisco” is currently on exhibition at the League of Reston Artists/Reston Photographic Society Annual Judged Photography Exhibition at the Jo Ann Rose Gallery in Reston. I say that because I am absolutely captivated by this non-traditional take on a traditional travelogue photograph of the Golden Gate Bridge and because this image really needs to be seen in person to be fully appreciated; more about that later.
Although Mr. Neenan and I work at opposite ends of the spectrum with our photographic processes, (I suppose that’s one of the understatements of the year in the world of fine art photography!) I very much intuitively relate to his technically challenging sensibility of turning photographic traditions upside down through a photographic process that I have yet, and indeed, refuse to embrace. He and I don’t worship at the same church, but we do pray to the same God, in other words.
What are the traditions of digital photography and how do you break those traditions if you desire to do so? Enter Mr. Neenan…
Like many when confronted by images produced by an unidentifiable source, I find it very difficult to honestly admit that I don’t want to know how they were made. When I look at “Nuclear San Francisco”, for example, I have to admit that I do want to know how Mr. Neenan made this image. Without knowing him and without knowing how he achieves his images, however, I would be forced to make certain assumptions.
Many of my assumptions would, as a criminal trial attorney might say, “assume facts not entered into evidence”. My assumptions would be predicated on certain traditional understandings of the processes of photography, including digital photography.
For example, one of the really interesting things about “Nuclear San Francisco” is the printed black key line that surrounds the image. Again, you really have to see the work in person in the frame to appreciate the absolutely breath taking beauty of this piece. The key line is a very old and time honored traditional element of film photography. Incorporated as it is into this work brings a traditional context to the piece that further enhances its unique non-traditional quality.
When I look at Mr. Neenan’s work in person, I really have to bite my tongue to avoid going down that path of wanting to know or ask: “How do you do it?” How it’s done is less interesting to me in his case than what it is. Indeed, I’m almost reluctant to want to know how it’s done.
“Too much info is too much to know to say no to,” as my grandfather in Mississippi used to say. Mr. Neenan’s photographic work has a very traditional soul and heart that is magical poetic photographic beauty achieved in a mysterious non-traditional photographic way. His images contain what is so lacking in so much of the endless stream of programmatic digital photography I have seen: humanity.
James Bailey’s works are not for the faint of heart. Redolent with an olio of life in the Big Easy and other Southern climes, Mr. Bailey’s works are the antithesis of traditional “make nice” photography. Emotional, disturbing, and unique. I find his film-based work to be exciting and in diametric opposition to my digital-based imagery.
“Visceral” would be an accurate descriptor of James’ rough edge photographic images. Here is an artist in the truest sense of the word, working in film and using a methodology that assures a completely one-of-a-kind work.
James brings melancholy and mania to the viewing public in a way that neither insults nor is prurient. His Church Burning is evocative of what happened in Mississippi in the 1960’s...without actually capturing an image of a burning church. Photographic art has been all too docile until now. Mr. Bailey sets the bar going forward for those of us who work in images, film or digital.
Not only are Mr. Bailey’s photographs technically unique and striking, his views on art are welcome by those of us who think we are doing something technically and artistically different. Once seeing his works, artists like myself finally understand the true meaning of the word esoteric!