Bree Lamb

New Takes

Bree Lamb

By Jamee Crusan May 8, 2018

New Takes (formerly Fan Mail on Daily Serving) is a column that spotlights emerging artists from every region on this planet. Art Practical welcomes all artists to submit their work to be reviewed. Every year, a writer is nominated and selected from a pool of recent graduates of California College of the Arts to write for the New Takes column.


Bree Lamb, a photographer located in New Mexico, produces sweet and sugary photographs that complicate partnerships and familiar relations while also instigating a hint of nostalgia for anyone who was a kid in the 1980s and 1990s. Through her use of bright color palettes, ranging from pale blues and pinks to lush oranges and purples, Lamb moves from energetic and passionate moods into the serene—an aesthetically pleasing viewing experience. In her latest series, A House, A Home (2016), Lamb also uses the aesthetics of commercial photography, a specific choice that reminds me of the infamous Glamour Shots studio genre from the early ’90s. Some readers may remember these iconic portraits, in which people wore glamourous apparel from sparkled and studded jackets to red feather boas. The poses that were my personal favorites were of couples poised with their pets, like cats and, better yet, parrots. In A House, A Home, Lamb’s images come across as posed studio portraits of inanimate objects, now with their own distinct set of characteristics—or even personalities—and lit similarly to Glamour Shots photoshoots. These objects—such as candy hearts, cassette tapes, and clothing—act as stand-ins for a specific person, couple, or group of people. In my recent interview with Lamb she explained, “A House, A Home is trying to play off commercial portrait photography, both in the color combinations, and also in the shooting choice to use a direct hard light source with little diffusion of the light.”1

Bree Lamb. Days of Our Lives, 2018; archival digital print; 12 x 12 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Lamb’s most recent image in the series, Days of Our Lives (2018), riffs on the popular eponymous daytime soap opera full of love triangles, murder, and amnesia—among other dramas. Currently in its 53rd season, this soap was a staple for any kid who spent the afternoon watching TV after school. Lamb’s photograph shows a neatly folded stack of blue jeans, calling to mind the daily chore of our lives—laundry—and then, following that thought, the gendered role of who typically does the laundry. (Lamb’s title also produces a comical clash between the romantic narratives of soap operas and their missing reality: who folds their laundry?)

I associate the act of doing someone else’s laundry, especially that of a loved one, with intimacy. This denim blue stack remains sturdy and stable, yet it is vulnerable enough to be easily toppled over by the careless actions of another—much like characters on a soap opera. Such an action, of course, forces the one folding the jeans to start all over again. Lamb’s Days of Our Lives shows just another day in our lives as experienced by any parent or lover doing the simultaneously futile and never-ending labor of chores.

Bree Lamb. Lost in Translation, 2018; archival digital print; 12 x 12 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

One of the most vibrant pieces, Modern Love (Lost in Translation) (2018), depicts rows of heart-shaped candies, or “conversation hearts,” usually sold for Valentine’s Day, arranged in a square against a bold purple background. What would be a symmetrical paragraph of sweet, romantic words literally blurs and fades within each row of Lamb’s image, as the candies’ texts (“kiss me” and “be mine”) are progressively smeared to the point of illegibility. This once cute and common way to communicate to a special someone has become unrecognizable; as her title indicates, Lamb renders the intended messages as “lost in translation.” This poppy image turned into a futile and faded exchange, combined with its title, mirrors the way communication in intimate relationships, especially via technology, can at times be challenging—like when a text message that was sent in jest is received incorrectly.

Bree Lamb. Both Sides, 2018; archival digital print; 12 x 12 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Lamb’s subtle cynicism is also seen in Both Sides (2017), in which two black cassette tapes sit with their sides touching on a juicy yellow background. Mixtape culture of the ’80s and ’90s acted as a proxy for confession for many kids: the tapes were a way to express your deepest desires to a crush, or possibly rekindle a faded romance. (Songs always seem to say the things we can’t.) In this simple composition, Lamb calls into play the double-edged excitement of a new crush and the flip-side of possible rejection or the aftermath of a failed romance. Simultaneously conjuring the nostalgia of youth while slapping us in the face with adulthood, Lamb’s Both Sides serves as a blunt reminder that in every relationship, romantic or otherwise, there are always two sides to the story—even if sometimes we forget to flip the tape.

Lamb turns off the cynicism in her series Volley (2015), focusing on family vacations and exploring memories that have changed over time. To produce this series, Lamb scans family snapshots, then digitally samples specific colors from the scans. With the selected colors digitally overlaid on the snapshot, she photographs her desktop screen to create the final image. The results are both blurred and monochromatic. The layering relates the work to memory even further, beyond even the family memories Lamb depicts. Memories are necessary emotional building blocks for creating attachment in any relationship, but they still get distorted and change over time; they fade in some places, strengthen in others, and remain ephemeral in nature.

When Lamb photographs her computer screen, the refraction of light onto the digital camera’s sensor creates a wavy texture—like a moiré pattern—throughout the image. This texture is especially prominent in Yorktown Heights (2015). The swirls of light form what look like ripples in a swimming pool, even more so when paired with Lamb’s selected light-blue background. There is a figure of a little girl in the upper-right corner. She appears to be sitting on the ledge of something, perhaps a pool, as her legs dangle over the edge. In Yorktown Heights I can remember what it was like to be a child leaning my head against the car window on a bright day, closing my eyes, and watching swirls of light on the insides of my eyelids as we drove down the road. The pinks, blues, peaches, and greens filling my eyelids at times created shapes or, if the sun was too bright, afterimages. Lamb’s Volley series pinpoints the important role photographs plays in our ability to hold onto a memory, and also the photograph’s importance in establishing new relationships.

Lamb considers and tackles concepts of relationship in a very sweet way, enticing us with beautiful colors while illustrating the irony found in relationships. She calls out the alluring beginnings of romantic relationships that eventually lead to the aftermath of fading luster. It’s the snapshots taken that transcend us to a particular time; for me, looking at a Polaroid picture of fingers painted with white nail polish and intertwined with mine makes me swear I can still hear Bill Withers’s Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone playing in the background as we cruise down the road with the sun hitting our faces. In both familial and romantic relationships, photographs are sometimes the only thing we have left to remind us of what was: they are visuals that prove those past moments were real. Throughout Lamb’s work, the importance of emotional recall in the photographs we take with our person, partner(s), or people is foregrounded. Not the selfies, but the ones taken where we were side-by-side overlooking the Grand Canyon, during crazy nights of binging on sugar and tequila, or at nostalgic places like Children’s Fairyland in Oakland. Because when the conversation hearts fail, the tapes don’t get flipped, and the laundry piles up, all we’ll have left are snapshots that over time have been framed, forgotten about, or buried.

Notes

  1. This and all subsequent quotes are from a phone call with Lamb on January 22, 2018.

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