The Flash Forward Festival

By Kris Wilton

The Flash Forward Festival has breezed into town for its second year, bringing a welcome jolt of fresh imagery, thinking, and faces to Battery Wharf.

Dominating home base’s first floor is Aline Smithson’s cheeky “Arrangement in Green and Black: Portrait of the Photographer’s Mother Series.” Inspired by a chance encounter with Whistler’s iconic portrait, a leopard coat and hat, and a 1950s cat painting, Smithson set about riffing on Whistler’s theme, costuming her apparently good-natured mother for 20 different sittings. The 85-year-old appears in a bear costume (with an electronic singing fish on the wall), dressed as Elvis, in a wedding gown, a clown costume, and a child’s duck-shaped inner tube. She wears the same overdone makeup and sensible orthopedic shoes throughout, and the effect vibrates between humor – what fun mother and daughter must have had! – and pathos – how frail the spunky mother looks, how aged her bony hands. In fact, she died before the series of hand-painted images was finished – but boy, what an epitaph.

[Smithson will speak at the Wharf 2-3:30 on June 8, about her work and her blog]

Beautifully complimenting Smithson’s work is Maxine Helfman’s photo series “Vaguely Accurate,” which deconstructs historical portraiture by applying painterly flourishes directly to the hair and skin of the models themselves. They’re then photographed against dark-painted backgrounds, to luminous, even ghostly effect.

Upstairs is work from the competition at the heart of the festival – Canadian-based Magenta Foundation’s annual showcase of UK, US, and Canadian photographers under 34. Yes, 34. I especially loved Brendan George Ko’s portraits of women seemingly imprisoned by their own femininity; Jung-Wook Nok’s mysterious shots of what look like buildings being shaken, evoking 9/11; and Yijun Liao’s bleak explorations of physical intimacy. But I was blown away by Rachel Bee Porter’s take on food/hostessing porn: three richly hued, Martha Stewart-esque tablescapes gone frightfully wrong, their painstakingly complimentary teacakes and dishware, macaroons and macchiatos smashed and upsot, but still, for all their portentious chaos, just as artful. As if the hostess has gone ballistic on her perfect settings, then delicately arranged her buttercream crime scenes in striking, balanced compositions.

There’s lots more to the festival, like lectures, satellite shows throughout Boston, and various chances to meet up with fellow photogs or photophiles. But don’t miss this work, so striving and new.

Image from the Aline Smithson series, "Arrangement in green and Black: Portait of the Photographer's Mother Series"

Flash Forward Festival
June 7–10
Fairmont Battery Wharf


About the Author
Kris Wilton Kris Wilton
Kris is a freelance arts journalist who has contributed reported pieces and reviews to outlets including the Huffington Post,,, Modern Painters, Art+Auction, Art New England, New England Home, Entertainment Weekly, the Village Voice,, ARTnews, Philadelphia Weekly, Emerging Photographer, Photo District News, and RL Magazine.


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