Roberts & Tilton, Los Angeles
January 7 through Feb 18th, 2012
Walking through Gusmano Cesaretti’s recent exhibition of photographs curated by Aaron Rose at Roberts & Tilton feels very much like stepping backwards in time, walking the gritty streets of East Los Angeles, your back to the sun, head held high, quietly reflecting on the lives of native Angelenos as though life were a dark, sweetly complicated dream to be savored again and again.
Mostly shot in the early 1970s, Cesaretti’s images from the East LA Diary series, comprise a rich amalgam of life in and around East Los Angeles, documenting the lives of young Hispanic Americans without pretense or overt sentimentality. Instead, Cesaretti focused his attention on the rich, embroidered life of the city itself, which includes the historic and strangely revolutionary counterculture pastime of pimping out fastbacks and El Caminos. Los Angeles’car culture has come to be one of the ways this city of sometimes dubious “angels”distinguishes itself; the several portraits here of young men and women posing with their cars as though they were members of the family, defines a specific era, these supped up low-riders transformed into iconic symbols of definitive Los Angeles culture. The photographs also document the counterculture group, Klique E.L.A, and many of these images focus on particular members and exist as intimate portraits, attesting to the trust Cesaretti built with his subjects over long periods of time.
Cesaretti also captures the cool vulnerability of youth, specifically young women who gaze out at the camera, quietly resolute in their beauty and seductiveness, yet oddly displaced inside their own lives. In one image three women are shown together, one turned toward the camera smiling, another focused on something beyond the frame and a third turning away while brushing her long black hair. This image in particular emphasizes a sense of community among the women, yet each of them responds differently, as individuals, to the act of being seen and documented. Are these women sisters competing for the same man’s attention? Or are they friends primping in front of the mirror on a Saturday night? Either way, they are sweetly bound to one another. Cesaretti also depicts the inherent violence within the culture like a contour line that will not be denied or erased, yet again, the people who populate these images are profoundly human in all their aspects, and the artist infers that there is divination within this ambiguity.
In a much more recent series exhibited in the project space, Cesaretti continues this exploration into the nature of human survival and camaraderie in Niños del Silencio from 2007. A young girl poses in her uniform in front of what appears to be a dilapidated school. Her expression betrays an eagerness that verges on poignancy especially given her circumstances. Again there is the juxtaposition of youth, specifically that of a young woman making the best of a difficult life situation, and again we find grace and dignity within the image. Still other photographs in the series focus more specifically on the issue of poverty within Panamanian communities, yet all of these works are marked with a tremendous humanity that sets them apart from the standard voyeuristic fare. Cesaretti has been there and back again and will undoubtedly return.
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