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Gallery 98 is happy to add to its inventory two photo-composites by Tom Warren, compiling images from his early-1980s itinerant “portrait studios.” At a time when artists were feeling cut off from the “real world,” Warren set up public studios in different neighborhoods, where he could provide professional-quality portraits to local residents at a negligible price. The resulting images functioned both as personal mementos for the subjects and as components in a cumulative portrait of the community. The first of these portrait studios took place in 1981 at ABC No Rio, an art space located in what was then the barrio of the Lower East Side. Warren later repeated the studio format elsewhere.
Warren aimed to create a uniquely accurate depiction of local life. Because his subjects were also his clients, they present the attitudes and emotions that they want to be seen—in contrast to the dominant street photography, which privileged the artist’s viewpoint. The composite of images taken at No Rio (including several of children dressed up for Halloween) is rich in pride and humor.
Warren’s populist artistic philosophy derived from his membership in the artists’ group Collaborative Projects, Inc. (COLAB). ABC No Rio, like Fashion Moda in the South Bronx (where Warren set up a portrait studio in 1982), was an offshoot of COLAB. It’s no surprise that the artists who frequented these spaces were also quick to take advantage of Warren’s services. Warren first isolated the portraits of COLAB artists for a COLAB exhibition in Europe. Together, they constitute a compelling record of the personalities behind an important artistic movement of the 1980s.
Warren made very few prints from the negatives he kept. Recognizing their historical value, he recently returned to the negatives to create these two photo-composites, “Portrait Studio: No Rio Locals” and “Portrait Studio: COLAB Artists.” Each of these two digital prints has been signed by Warren.