MP3: Kelli Connell, Justin Newhall, Brian Ulrich

Kelli Connell, Giggle, 2002

About the Exhibition

This exhibition presents works by three emerging talents from the Midwestern United States: Kelli Connell, Justin Newhall, and Brian Ulrich. These artists have been selected to inaugurate The Midwest Photographers Publication Project (MP3) series, published by the museum in collaboration with the Aperture Foundation. Each of the artists is profiled in an individual volume containing images selected from their most recent work with essays written by Rod Slemmons, Karen Irvine, and Natasha Egan. The artists were chosen for the resonance of their work with current themes in contemporary photographic practice and to represent the quality of work in the museum’s Midwest Photographers Project.

Founded in 1982 by the MoCP, the Midwest Photographers Project is a rotating archive of contemporary photography established to promote both prominent and emerging photographers from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The MP3 series aims to give greater recognition to artists on the verge of national and international prominence.

Kelli Connell (Born 1974; lives and works in Youngstown, OH) 
Kelli Connell uses elements of private relationships she has experienced herself or witnessed in others to inspire the two-person narrative of her series Double Life. With the help of digital imaging, Connell creates photographs in which a single model plays two roles. Her photographs depict the day-to-day life of a fictional lesbian relationship in which each partner literally mirrors the other. In Connell’s narrative, when one partner loves the other, she loves herself, creating a poignant exploration of vanity and the duality between self and other. Appropriately, Connell’s intentions here are two-fold. On the one hand she exposes her own questioning of sexuality and gender roles, particularly as they influence identity in relationships. On the other hand she is also interested in how her pictures confront the viewer with his or her own notions of gender identity and social bias.

Justin Newhall (Born 1970; lives and works in Minneapolis, MN)
Exploring the landscape, historical sites, discarded memorabilia, and temporary roadside museums littering the American West, Justin Newhall has spent many summers following the Lewis and Clark Trail through the Dakotas, Montana and beyond. Lewis and Clark are the best known Anglo-Americans to survey the American West, and it is through their narrative that modern Western mythology has its origin. Newhall’s photographs explore the energy we put into keeping such myths alive—the stories of undaunted courage, industrious pioneers, and fearless adventurers. Along the way he exposes various hyperboles of tourism as he subtly critiques the American consumption of history. Not meant to be a documentary investigation of present day life on the trail, Newhall’s series is rather a lyrical exploration of the romance that permeates our conception of the American West.

Brian Ulrich (Born 1971; lives and works in Chicago, IL)
Brian Ulrich carefully examines the zeitgeist of the early years of the new millennium in an America defined by patriotic consumption. Operating in an environment where the War on Terror is fought with credit cards, delayed payments, and manufacturers’ rebates, Ulrich photographs unobtrusively, capturing people frozen in a trance somewhere between ecstasy and torpor in the grandiose environments of shopping malls and big box stores. With humor and empathy he portrays us, the consumers, negotiating marketing strategies of identity formation and lifestyle choices. His work emphasizes with great irony the surreal juxtaposition of a War on Terror and the unbridled consumption that has characterized the past four years, implicitly questioning the sustainability of permanent war and infinite prosperity.