Imprinted marks a deviation from typical photography exhibitions at the Museum. The exhibition includes photographs in the traditional sense, including a beautiful and remarkably large Polaroid on loan from a private collection, alongside digital prints of some of Betancourt’s more practiced, and composed imagery. However, this range of printed media extends to more contemporary printing practices, including imagery printed larger than life on vinyl wall hangings, imagery printed on acrylic, and even printed on wallpaper installed within the space. This diverse and experimental roster of medium illustrates how Betancourt’s image making need not be contained by traditional framing and installation techniques. Further, this technique reinforces the primacy of concept over technique.
As this exhibit is atypical to the Southeast Museum of Photography, likewise nothing of Betancourt’s style is typical. His work pushes the boundaries between the pure capture of the lens and image making in post-production. What results is an exploration of sensations: lush, radiant, eccentric, and uninhibited. Some pieces from Imprinted are the consequence of Betancourt picking seemingly random objects imbued with vital memories and creating an unapologetically beautiful, strangely ordered, and vibrant assemblage—like dreams or memories themselves.
Featured in this exhibition are selections from Carlos Betancourt’s “Re-Collections” series; ornamental and organic photographic prints assuming an ordered and symmetrical shape, but consisting of seemingly endless variety of smaller parts with no apparent connection. There is a flawless and pleasing character to how the disparate parts are assembled into the whole. Another version in the shape of totems, covers the entirety of one wall as it was printed on wall paper and then installed. Though the totem has a vertical symmetry unlike the rounded or snowflake shapes of the previous Re-Collections works, they too assume a larger shape without losing the character of the individual object.
Also on display is a large piece from Betancourt’s “Portals” series. This work portrays both an interior and exterior, architecture and landscape, figure, space and object all woven together. The larger than life print on acrylic invites the viewer to read a cyclical narrative from a flat surface.
Completing the exhibition is a series of works that push photography well beyond traditional notions. The grand scale vinyl wall hangings displaying moments from Betancourt’s performance pieces demand the viewer’s attention, and seem to elevate the concept of the work, correlating the size of the print to the importance of the memory. Also on display is a work so far removed from it’s image based origins that it requires a floor pedestal. This piece, Let Them Eat Cake Pink, is a found object sculpture with poured paint and resin. A physical object emanating form the “El Portal” image it sits in front of—this piece, like so many of Betancourt’s work, pushes photography well beyond the traditional understanding of image making.
The Miami based transplant from Puerto Rico helped to usher in the contemporary renaissance of Miami artists known as the “imperfect utopia.” This revitalization hinged on the exploration of medium, identity, and place. For Betancourt’s part, he reinvented the use flash and glitz in his photographic performances, vinyl prints, installations, and found object sculptures. A peek in Betancourt’s toolbox would undoubtedly reveal glitter, poured synthetics, photoshop, and ticker tape, all applied generously to renditions of himself and his close circle of family and friends.
In his artistic pursuits Betancourt explores the human desire to document, memorialize, remember or revisit one’s experiences. His fascination with preserving memory leads to an obsession with collecting such things as the Christmas ornaments or sand castle molds closely associated with his childhood. Not content with just a remembering, however, these objects are remade with pageantry and performance, given a sparkling gold patina that softens the edges of youth lost over time.