If art gives people voice, then Boyd White is speaking out for the homeless this month at Tacoma Art Place. The community art studio on the Hilltop, just off Martin Luther King Jr. Way on South 11th Street, regularly exhibits work in its lobby, and the show up through this weekend features work by Hilltop photographer Boyd White documenting the region’s homeless.
White has spent the last four years documenting homelessness in the Northwest and elsewhere, and the 19 black-and-white silver gelatin prints at TAP are just part of the project. There are a few too many works for the small entryway, and the crowding doesn’t do them any favors. But in their unity of vision and starkness of subject they’re well worth a look.
White captures his subjects in a world at its lowest ebb. Almost all shots are at night: Streetlamps echo erratically in shop windows, throwing wet pools onto dark pavement. All the people are asleep, huddled lumps of blankets and hoodies, mummified in the darkness. Nothing else stirs.
The emptiness (literal and figurative) is accentuated by White’s highly shadowed black-and-white prints, the strong diagonals of street and pavement bisecting the gray. Interestingly, most locations seem to be in Seattle. Don’t Tacoma’s homeless merit a show?
The trouble is, White achieves eloquence, but not variety. Almost all the bundled figures inhabit the middle ground, with a framework of windows and pillars behind them. It also reduces these people to the importance of a lost bag. Perhaps this is White’s ironic intent, but as a viewer you get hungry for faces – one man? woman? is even completely buried under a complicated structure of boxes, paper and umbrellas.
These people are not faceless: They have families, dreams, problems, lives. As well as art that bundles them even more into their own world, maybe we also need art that treats them as people.
The Boyd White exhibit runs 1-8 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat. and noon-5 p.m. Sun. through May 30. Free. Tacoma Art Place gallery, 1116 S. 11th St., Tacoma. 253-238-1006, www.tacomaartplace.org