Ray Potes pays homage to the history of film-based photography

REVIEW In the grand scheme of things, the mission of Hamburger Eyes is an admirable one: to perpetuate the life of film-based photography, its processing, and its printing. By offering both color and black-and-white labs at their newish Photo Epicenter, they have created an outpost that caters to specific photographic practices while maintaining a distance from the rising popularity of digital technologies.

In "Android," the current exhibit in the Epicenter's intimate entryway gallery, the photographs of Hamburger Eyes magazine editor Ray Potes pay direct homage to the history of his medium and the beauty of the high-contrast black-and-white image. Regardless of subject, his prints are consistently striking in their formal qualities. The subjects, however, compete with the technical elements of the photographs.

Potes's photos are less about capturing and producing an image with a pleasing combination of blacks and whites than about capturing a lifestyle — or at least a snippet of one. The 100 11-by-14-inch photographs on display, all framed but hung so close together that they take on a muralistic quality, present an extensively documented world but maintain a highly edited point of view. Although the imagery hints at a photojournalistic eye, documenting the decay and inhumanity of city life, the main focus is on a youth or street culture à la Vice magazine.

In this sense, photographs of so-called crackheads and human excrement on sidewalks appear to arise from a pubescent interest in the extreme for its own sake. The arrangement of human destitution in such close proximity to images of pretty girls and topless women illustrates the artist's range, yet the simultaneity of optimism and pessimism, created by juxtaposing such polar aspects of urban life, also seems to accentuate the growing divide in classes and a sense that the poor and drug addicted have become mere curiosities for the affluent. The photographs would have benefited from a more thoughtful installation that resolved, or simply addressed, the social issues they perhaps inadvertently conjure.

ANDROID Through Dec. 7. Hamburger Eyes Photo Epicenter, 26 Lilac, SF. (415) 550-0701, www.hamburgereyes.com

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