Tampa Photographer Laureate VI: Jeremy Chandler

Despite the influence of a commercial portrait photographer (a friend of the family) on Chandler as a kid growing up in north Florida, these aren’t the kind of portraits most people would hang on their mantle. A graduate of the University of Florida and the University of South Florida’s MFA program (class of 2009), Chandler takes his cue from the lively interest within contemporary art in probing the psychological depths and formal seductions of portraiture. Drawn to Florida’s colorful side (literally and figuratively) and the distinctive personalities who populate it, the photographer functions as an anthropologist whose research often produces a kind of visual poetry.


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Chandler’s gift lies in his ability to create pictures that stop short of exploiting the cliché of ‘weird Florida.’ Take Hot Dog Lady, a surprisingly dignified portrait of a bikini-clad hot dog vendor—part Tammy Faye Bakker, part Playboy bunny—striking a Birth of Venus-evoking pose in front of her car-drawn cart. Nothing could be plainer than the woman’s pride at being photographed and the odd normalcy of her entrepreneurship. Ditto Wrestler 5, which captures an improbably pudgy fighter gazing glumly into the camera but manages to inspire far more empathy than scorn. Truly, it takes all kinds to make a community.


As a group, the portraits may be most remarkable for the seriousness of expressions on the sitters’ faces. (One of the portfolio’s crowning achievements, Couple at the Fair, is utterly engrossing for the earnestness of its subjects’ demeanor, delightfully out-of-context against a garish backdrop of fairground tsotchkes.) Likely the effect of Chandler’s use of a cumbersome large format camera, that seriousness dramatically distinguishes the photographer’s images from the constant snapshotting of daily life. (Just imagine the same couple’s day at the fair as documented by cell phone camera and savor the depth of the more formal portrait.)


One shortcoming of the exhibit—and by extension, the portfolio—is that it occasionally touches too lightly and moves on too quickly from its subjects. A single portrait of Gasparilla pirates (members of Ye Mystic Krewe) offers no new insights into that subculture. An image of Bacchus, the portly celebrant who greets visitors to the Italian Club during Festa Italiana, makes me want to learn more. But then, maybe that’s where Chandler’s portraits leave off and the viewer’s curiosity picks up—taking the form of an anthropological excursion of his or her own, perhaps.


Given the relevance of the photographer laureate program to so many Tampa and greater Bay area residents, these photographs should be on display in a more accessible venue. That’s not to impugn the hospitality of AIA Tampa Bay, who could hardly be more gracious hosts, but is a conference room (despite its street frontage) really the place for an exhibition of one of the City’s most engaging public art programs? Like each of the photographer laureate portfolios, Chandler’s images will circulate in city buildings after their debut. Perhaps by the time the next laureate, UF professor Barbara Jo Revelle, takes the stage, the program—a true civic treasure—will get the exhibition venue it deserves.


IF YOU GO: The Big Picture, Vol. VI: Photographer Laureate Jeremy Chandler runs through July 6 at Gallery AIA, American Institute of Architects, 200 N. Tampa St., Suite 100. For more information, call Gallery AIA at 813-229-3411 or go to aiatampabay.com or tampagov.net/arts.


Pictured above left: Jeremy Chandler. Hot Dog Lady. Image courtesy of the artist.


Megan Voeller is Creative Loafing’s visual art critic. She teaches at the University of Tampa and blogs at Artsqueeze.com.

Jeremy Chandler. Couple at the Fair. Image courtesy of the artist.

First there was Beth Reynolds’ documentation of Tampa life in heterogeneous form—from the flamenco dancer to the crab fisherman. Then came Suzanne Camp Crosby’s more surreal take on the city’s character—think headless mannequins in period costume arranged on the veranda of Plant Hall. Next, Rebecca Sexton Larson’s pinhole photographs, Steven S. Gregory’s digitally altered landscapes and Marion Belanger’s haunting interior spaces, devoid of people.

Now the sixth shooter to take up the mantle of photographer laureate for the City of Tampa, Jeremy Chandler, offers his view of the burg’s charms and curiosities. Through July 6, twenty of his color photographs (from a portfolio of 35 images in all) are on view at Gallery AIA at the American Institute for Architects offices in downtown Tampa. Like each of his predecessors, Chandler sees Tampa through his own aesthetic ‘lens’—in this case, one devoted to portraiture.

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