Clifford Prince King: Yesterday and Beyond

February 7–May 19, 2023
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Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld Contemporary Art Museum was pleased to organize the first museum solo exhibition in the Los Angeles area for LA-based photographer Clifford Prince King. Yesterday and Beyond was accompanied by a digital catalogue with an essay by Darnell Moore.

This is the first solo photography exhibition following the Museum’s work to redefine its collecting priorities. Recently acquired, King’s For What It’s Worth, 2019, was the Museum’s first photography acquisition by purchase in over a decade. King’s large photographs printed digitally from scanned 35mm film negatives embrace the grainy artifacts of the scanning process. His golden-hued compositions of friends and acquaintances in mostly domestic spaces connect with the history of figurative photography and classical painting. Yet King’s delectable color palette and historically grounded figurative arrangements feature Queer Black bodies in moments of close intimacy largely absent from art history. In a review for the New York Times, critic Aruna D’Souza writes that King’s work “is about the subtleties of human contact.” Emily Dinsdale, writing for Dazed magazine, explains that King “explore[s] themes of Black male queer identity by documenting shared, intimate moments of human camaraderie and vulnerability among friends and lovers.”

King’s work has developed decades after the origins of personal, unrestrained diaristic images made by Boston School photographers like Nan Goldin, Mark Morrisroe, and Jack Pierson. Yet, that art history offers valuable context for King’s photographs. Early critiques of images by photographers in the Boston School circle often proposed that their work offered an unfiltered look at the artists’ lives in 1980s and ‘90s New York City. Later critical responses questioned how unfiltered the images really were. Given the pervasive culture of selfie-taking and camera phone photo-making today, many of us—through daily image making—now better understand how mediated and personally subjective photographs are. Today, we often look at historic photographs and question what or whose reality is being presented to us. Working at a time when social media appears to have removed all boundaries between private and public, King’s work suggests new ways of thinking about how we share and why. Rather than trying to resolve this tension between what a photograph is and what a photograph does, King leverages these qualities to chart an additional use of the photographic image. He accomplishes this by carefully creating photographs that propose to be neither absolute truth nor complete fiction; King creates realities he and others need.

In the introduction to his anthology, Brother to Brother, New Writings by Black Gay Men (1991), poet Essex Hemphill wrote, “In our fiction, prose, and poetry, there is a need to reveal more of our beauty in all its diversity. We need more honest pictures of ourselves… Ours should be a vision willing to exceed all that attempts to confine and intimidate us.” In this vein, King uses a film camera to make images from situations he sets up and allows to unfold. Akin to planned documentation, the scenes in his photographs capture moments in an action sequence set in motion. Suggestive and not entirely clear, the narratives shared with the viewer are coded and either legible or partially illegible depending on who is viewing them.

Clifford Prince King: Yesterday and Beyond was made possible through a grant by Pasadena Art Alliance, funds from The Constance W. Glenn Endowment, and the collaborative labor and time of the Museum and CSULB communities, Darnell Moore, Jeff Keiss, Light Work, and Clifford Prince King.