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Tim Roda

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The Butchers Block by Tim Roda - Modern Mythology in a Domestic Setting


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Tim Roda's black & white motifs play with personal memories of childhood as well as common mythical motifs in a context that is deliberately independent of time.

The master photographer focuses his camera on the creation of bizarre sets with his family. Even the sets are not worked out in the most perfected manner imaginable, quite the opposite – the idea is the concept, realised with simple materials such as stone, wood or clay.

The mostly unedited images, seemingly incomplete in parts, are exactly what they are supposed to be. They grant the audience a glance into his world. The staged emotion is supported by the technical finesse such as acid burns or fake mistakes. Hence, the manual work that went into the photographs is intended to be discovered and noticed.

Tim was born in Lancaster in 1977 and studied art at Pennsylvania State University as well as the University of Washington. His works can be found in the Essl Museum, Klosterneuburg, Austria; the Gaia Collection, Turin, Italy; in Elton John’s Private Collection, Atlanta, Georgia and more. He lives and works in New York.

The Butcher’s Block by Tim Roda
Galerie Anita Beckers
Frankenallee 74
60327 Frankfurt am Main
until 25 February 2012

Opening Times:
Tue – Fri 11am-6pm
Sat 11am-2pm

Tim Roda

Emily Hall, Artforum

The black in Tim Roda’s black and white photographs is inky, saturated, and absolute, and the whites are moony, stark, and often, although not always, provided by intense spotlights. Within these atmospheric extremes Roda stages tableaux reminiscent of myths, fables, fairy tales, and parables, often starring his son Ethan, and using a mixture of intensive props, costumes, and prosthetics to create a whatever’s-at–hand aesthetic--so that his stage is cluttered with bits of wood, wire, string, and wallpaper, a sort of art-studio noir. The images in his recent exhibition “Family Matters” (all titled Untitled followed by a number, and made within the past four years) are echoes of tales of ill-favored fathers and sons, of antiheroes and their sidekicks: the father slaughtering a papier-mâché cow while the son, wearing a crown and cradling a lamb in his arms, calls to someone off to the side; the father seemingly suspended from the wall in some sort of full body breathing apparatus while the son lounges, bored, in a chair; the two of them in serene silhouette, under the translucent wings of a windmill.

Ethan’s presence--as Icarus, Isaac, Sancho Panza- gives the images the frisson of uneasiness that frequently arises from depictions of children in artworks. Certainly some of Roda’s earlier images have trod edgy emotional ground, showing, for example, the boy in tears. But the constant back and forth between playfulness and darkness here seems truthful, as a father and son enact the process by which adults transmit to children their knowledge of the world and by which they are, in turn, changed by doing the transmitting. Children may be innocent, but they are also wily, passionate and destructive; they have a particular power and vacillate between knowing and how to use it and being utterly perplexed by it. Roda captures the complex life of a child while still affording his dignity and allowing him to be real, singular child, rather than a symbol (which is how the images, although unsettling, avoid being exploitative); the child as an angry slayer of a mythical beast, the child as triumphant hero, the child as initiate into mysteries he doesn’t yet understand (as in an image in which they regard each other with a kind of mutual bafflement, the artist in shadow, in long prosthetic legs and goggles, the child bathed in light). And they have a great deal of fun together, as Moliere-ish buffoons, as intrepid inventors of crackpot machines, as vaudeville actors in a real-life skit.

Roda takes great care with the formal aspects of his photographs-despite the scavenged and taped-together aesthetic, and despite making a point of de-emphasizing finish (for a past exhibition his photographs were mounted on plywood with screws, in some cases with the screws driven right through the image itself)---in order to balance the transience of the moments the works depict with the permanence of their records. The idea of balance extends to Roda’s management of the staged and the natural, so that the viewer sifts through layers of artifice and stagecraft- fake legs attached to a human body, cartoonish brightness lines emanating from a real light bulb, all manner of lo-fi optical trickery, including mirrors, shadows, and not-quite-illusionistic lines taped to a wall---to arrive at a real family pursuing its own particular versions of universal tales.

Tim Roda - Daily Serving



October 15, 2008

Tim Roda

Tim Roda's exhibition, Family Album, opened on October 2nd, 2008 at the fresh San Francisco gallery, Bear Ridgway Exhibitions. Roda and his family could be called a collaborative, since the creative process involves the whole family's participation. Roda creates intricate sets (often on-the-spot) including--just to name a few--found objects, costumes and carpentry materials. Roda then invites his family into his newly fashioned space where the scenes are created--which he documents closely with a 35mm camera. Roda captures out of the ordinary moments that draw influence from his past family life. His photo development process is also unique in that he pays little attention to the exacting tasks of typical photo development--he burns, dodges, and cuts down at his own accord evoking a blurry, pixilated, and "unfinished" feel to his photographs.

Educated in ceramics, Roda earned his MFA from the University of Washington and his BFA from Pennsylvania State University. Roda has exhibited widely throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. He and his family are currently living and working in Italy on a Fulbright scholarship. DailyServing's Arden Sherman, had a chance to speak with him about his current exhibition, his working process, and what's next to come.

DailyServing: I understand that you have had a friendship with Kent Baer and Eli Ridgway of Baer Ridgway Exhibitions (BRX) for some time now. Can you tell us a little bit about the process that went into the preparation and into the actualization of your Family Album exhibition?

Tim Roda: I started working at Greg Kucera Gallery in Seattle a few years ago. Both Eli and Kent worked there. We got to know each other on a more professional level. I have worked with a handful of galleries, some really organized and some really horrible. I know how Kent and Eli work and I had no doubts about getting involved with them. Even though they are a young gallery, I know their working style--they are very organized. Kent and Eli are really smart guys and I think they will go a long way. Hopefully we can have another show next year.

DS: You have used the title, Family Album, for other shows as well as the title, Family Matters. How did you select the works for this show?

TR: There are close to 150 works in Family Album, so I used the same title, though each show is different. When deciding which works go into a show, it comes down to a negotiation between artist and dealer. For a show I did in Germany, I used tape and wallpaper, creating more of an installation. Eli, Kent [of BRX] and I were into agreement about which works went into the show. The way I work is by taste and aesthetic, trial and error. I have never really made work that fits together as a whole; they are mostly all individual photographs.

DS: You create elaborate sets made out of found objects, tape, clay, and scrap building materials. Do you conceptualize these scenes before they are conceived or does the process occur organically? And does your son help with the ideas?
TR: Sometimes both. Usually the first thing I will do is start painting a white wall or cover it with wallpaper, a process that usually lasts all day. Allison brings my sons in the evening and I tell her what I am looking for--when she sees it, she snaps the picture. We work really well together. She understands me and we are on the same field of thought. Ethan's role has definitely changed, we started making photographs when he was four and now he is ten and much more aware of what is going on. A lot of the scenes come from constructed memory and family experiences... a lot of it stems from my past.

DS: Through the father-son relationship, which you document in your photographs, and your father and grandfather's inherent influence on you, do you think that you are taking--for lack of a better word--a decidedly masculine approach to documenting your time with your son? And what place do women occupy in your work, either as subjects or as viewers?

TR: My work is domestic. I think there is a gay following of my work. The gay community seems to relate to it. I think this would be a good question for a woman. I play a lot with domestic situations and I sometimes wear dresses. My father was a "tough guy" and a "hard man", so sometimes I poke fun at that. Oftentimes, in America, men do not participate in domestic activities, but my grandfather who was Italian was always in the kitchen. For me cooking is one of my favorite things to do, my wife is busy going to school for her doctorate so I have to pull the weight at home. Allison and I are 100% half and half. Right now, she is going for doctorate and when I was going through school, she took care of the house. I guess I do not address women so much in the photographs because I do not know so much about them or about being one.

DS: Plaid is an aspect of your work, in the show at BRX, and additionally referenced in the introductory essay of the exhibition catalogue by David Hunt. You created a wallpaper collage of xeroxed plaids and stripes in the gallery. Can you elaborate on your motives behind this installation? What sort of symbolism does plaid have for you?

TR: I think, for me, plaid means layers and process. I find David Hunt to be sort of plaid himself. I had to read it like six times to comprehend it! Lighting, wallpaper, fabrics, my installations need to have layers to be interesting. I am a very process oriented person. I have had traditional shows in the white-box setting and others that are more installation based--in order to show more of the process demonstrated in my working style and my photo process. I find it a whole lot easier to understand my work when the viewer can see the rolls of paper or the loose paper that I have Xeroxed and taped to the wall. When my son and wife arrive after installation is complete, it adds a whole life to the sets that I create. I started in ceramics in school and then one day took a photo of my son sitting next to it, the whole thing sort of started there.

DS: Why are most of your photos in the BRX show untitled?

TR: Titles let people off the hook. People try to come up with their own meanings based on a title. They are numbered in chronological order so, in a sense, there is a story being told. Plus I do not think I am very good at titles, so I do not want to force it. I find that people are quick to associate a title with other works and other artists. I am aware of certain artists but they do not necessarily influence that particular work or body. In school, I looked at a lot of other artists, but I think I get kind of annoyed because I do not want to be classified with them.

DS: I noticed a baby appearing in a few of your photographs. Is that your son or daughter?

TR: That is my son Rocco; he is eleven months old. This past summer we spent a residency in Spain. It was the first time we worked and lived in the same space. It was a cool experience because there was no difference between art and family or home and studio. I have an artist friend from Montana, and he was always conflicted because he wanted to go home to his family but he felt deeply inspired to keep working in the studio. My son, Ethan is also very exposed to contemporary art and artists. He sees people making work, which is totally different from what we are doing, and then we ask him about what he sees. He has a hard time connecting art class at school and the studio work of us or other professional artists. The way schools are set up, the kids only really learn traditional elementary tools.

DS: I wanted to congratulate you on receiving the Fulbright scholarship. What an honor. I understand that you will be moving to Italy to work on your project. Can you tell us what you will be working on and what we should look forward to in the future?

TR: Actually this was my third time applying for the Fulbright. Its pretty simple process, you write a proposal and they either accept it or deny it. Mine was a little tricky. I want to investigate the domestic side of Italy, which sounds pretty great to most people--cooking and hanging out in the home. I think finally my contacts and my work brought me over the top and showed them that it was not just a great vacation. I will be going to Rome and giving lectures and then we will head South go live in Pentidatillo, the village where my grandfather grew up. I am interested to see his life, his struggles, his friends, and his home. My family will join me of course-this is a very familial experience. We are all very connected to this project, we work tightly, meeting great people, traveling and being together.
Then we will head to Northern Italy where I am going to work with Eva Brioschi, who is the curator for the Gaia Collection (Collezione La Gaia). I am excited about getting to understand differences between North and South Italy and their subsequent rivalry. If you look on an Italian map, we are from just north of Melito, and no further south than there. Northern Italians are nice to us because we are American-Italian but if we were Southern Italians it would be a different story. Another Fulbright recipient told me not to decide too much before I get there. So we will see. I am confident that my work will organically evolve once I am over there and meeting people and working.
Posted by Oknertep at 6:44 AM

Gallery Going


Gary Michael Dault, The Globe and Mail

Toronto's Angell Gallery was among the first to exhibit the work of New York photographer Tim Roda, who is now turning up internationally, to considerable acclaim, more frequently.

Roda's rapturous reception isn't too hard to figure. In an art world dominated by gigantic, glutinous colour photographs of landscapes, Roda's witty but severe, theatrically constructed, deliberately ramshackle black-and-white photo-essays seem like a chilled glass of mineral water on a parching, dry day.

The Angell Gallery exhibition, Family Album, is made up of only seven prints, all but one made in 2007. They depict the joys and the lunacy of family life (most of his photos feature his wife Allison and his son, Ethan).

As with Roda's previous exhibition at the gallery, the new photos are delightfully cheeky, each of them (like Nativity, Chashama Chapel, Untitled #136) involving amusingly tacky tableaus which Roda stages in his studio. An exception is Untitled #150 (Living Large), which shows Roda and Ethan, who is now engulfed by a black afro, sitting in a big white Mercedes-Benz.

I like the careful ad hoc-ness of Roda's photographs, and their genial chaos. For me, the great appeal of his work lies in the fact that he makes no attempt at all to hide the technical trappings necessary to the making of each photo: Everywhere in his harsh, unshaded light, there are cables, sheets of cardboard, grimy bolts of cloth, broken furniture objects, clip-on floodlights, dank brick walls, oddly fortuitous props and a general air of happy desperation - as if Roda and Ethan were trying to get in as much playing time as they could before someone called them in for supper.

Related link: Family Album – Tim Roda

Tim Roda at Greg Kucera

Matthew Kangas, Art in America

Tim Roda’s second solo show in Seattle (which coincided with his New York debut at Klemens Gaser & Tanja Grunert) was another step forward for the 29-year-old photographer, whose 2004 M.F.A. at the University of Washington is in ceramic sculpture. Clay still plays a discreet role in his large black-and-white set-up photographs, usually as the building material for some of the props incongruously present: a birthday cake, bricks, chickens, toys.
Otherwise, the cluttered, baroque vignettes in these 19 prints featuring Roda, his wife and his seven-year-old son filled with building-site detritus, dangerous-looking dangling electric wires, kitchen and bedroom furniture. Roda’s large prints (42 by 32 inches to 35 by 52 inches) appear to be the result of the competent but informal darkroom procedures.
In these works, figures are actively engaged with one another in each environment, involved in bizarre tasks such as climbing up a ladder with a window frame strapped on their backs, riding a bicycle in an enclosed room or slaughtering a fake turkey. False beards, faux food, cross-dressing, masks, interiors shot outdoors and exteriors constructed inside rooms- all these employ subtle humor to confound the viewer’s expectations of domestic tranquility.
In the new works, Roda has enlarged small photographs he has taken of older people’s faces and used those as masks-on-sticks for some his “actors,” suggesting hidden psychological dimensions. The tensions between parents, or between parents and child, are present in most of the works and lead to limitless family dramas.
Other works set the artist under glaring light at the center of composition, as if awaiting an interrogation, or place a masked woman beside a child poking a long steel pipe out a window. The persistent sense of awkward communication between father and son in two other works remains ambiguous. When they are seated at the breakfast table together or when the father stands in the child’s bedroom above the boy surrounded by toys, the implication vacillates between the imminent expression of affection and an impending scolding.
In other poses, it appears that the father and child were caught off-guard by a surprise visitor who is about to take their picture together. In these works, the child’s curiosity about the world is equated with the parent’s befuddlement over his duties. Ultimately, the power relationships between family members are distorted, challenged or reversed.


Matthew Kangas, The Seattle Times

Two young artists, Mark Newport and Tim Roda, have sensational new shows at Greg Kucera Gallery this month. Although both interpret the human figure, they are very different.

Newport hand-knits larger-than-life costumes of comic-book superheroes and meticulously beads and embroiders comic-book covers. Roda creates ominous black-and-white photographs of adults and children in bizarre, cluttered interiors. Together, they present two of the most thought-provoking and visually compelling exhibits of the summer.

Astoundingly, Roda, 27, just finished at the University of Washington graduate school of art. Already a mature artist with a complex, deepening vision of parent-child relationships and the artificially constructed nature of photography, Roda's solo debut is a major event. His completely original talent slyly draws in the viewer with oddly lit scenes of people in cramped and crowded domestic environments. Cheesy patterned wallpaper, skewed corners with deep perspectives and facial expressions of fear and confusion combine to disturb and unbalance the unsuspecting viewer.

What is going on in these pictures? Dream worlds of animals, toys and garage-sale remnants are the theatrical props for the people Roda situates in confining sites. Using family members and friends like actors, the photos distantly recall Sally Mann and Diane Arbus, famous black-and-white photographers whose work seems to prey upon the innocent models as much as on the viewer.

As a result, the stories implied within each shot are enigmatic and multi-layered, like a Faulkner short story. Roda's artistry is such, however, that precise titles like "The Last Italian Supper with My Mother" or "The Farmer, the Wife, My Mom and Me" (both 2004) deceive us into thinking these are part of real life. Far from it, the complicated compositions with diagonal wood scraps, windows and doors, and draped cloth make up a completely imaginary world that one wants to observe but is afraid to enter.

Hell Is for Children: Tim Roda's Family Matters

Nate Lippens, The Stranger

Childhood is a narcotic for artists, especially traumatic childhoods. Cut wrong or mixed in ill-advised combinations, the stuff can be deadly. But in the right dose it's powerful, transcendent, and frightening. Tim Roda, a recent MFA graduate from the University of Washington, in his potent and fully formed debut exhibition at Greg Kucera Gallery, knows exactly how much is enough. His black-and-white photos are gritty, tough, and a little shocking; there's a visceral punch and immediacy to them that subsides into deep unease. He's also judicious and smart enough in his distribution of the hard stuff to keep us wanting more.

His work draws on his eccentric childhood as the youngest of four children in an Italian family in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who raised and slaughtered their own food, and on his current family life as a young married father. The untitled photographs feature Roda, his wife, and his son, but they aren't rotely diaristic snapshots. The installations are meticulously composed in his studio with the deliberate symbolic weight of Old Masters' paintings, a traditionalism off-balanced by a thrown-together feel that recalls the thrift-store sets of Jack Smith's experimental films, such as Flaming Creatures. Roda uses mirrors, doubles, pictures within pictures, geometric constructions, and lighting to create a world that is part indelible childhood memory and part claustrophobic parallel universe. The presentation of the work eschews any preciousness. The black-and-white photographs on fiber matte paper are mounted to plywood with screws, some strategically placed to appear to pierce a hand or suspend a prop in an image.

The pictures embody the heightened art of balancing everyday domestic clutter over a pit of existential darkness, conjuring a tension that operates on levels big and small: You experience the discomfort of being a guest at another family's dinner table, where you suddenly sense barbs beneath coded banter. It's life mediated by art's inherent artificiality--its self-awareness--but retaining the ineffability of both.

One photo depicts a makeshift table made of a board suspended between sawhorses. Roda sits in black underwear looking at the camera; at the knees, his legs turn into clay that's stretched the length of the table, ending in misshapen feet with crooked toes. The boy stands beside the table looking at his father with a mixture of petulance and curiosity. Another photo has Roda's son yelling into a giant cone that functions as a megaphone, with Roda sitting in a cone hat that resembles a dunce cap, looking unruffled and uninterested in what his son is saying. It's the perfect, surreal exaggeration of a son's unheard story, being ignored by a father.

The relationships between boy and man, and father and son, and their relationships to their shared history, are at the heart of the work. Roda appears shirtless, in wigs, in a cowboy hat, never quite in control, always a bit disempowered, adrift and sad alongside his son whose big brown eyes make him the viewer's entry point to the work; he is the soul of the pictures. Yet Roda evades cheap horrors or exploitation as well as sentimentality. By maintaining its enigmatic quality and shifting emotional alliances--no one is having an easy time of it--the diary is larger than his life and his family. It's also more startling than any realist presentation could be because the viewer can't switch over into social-worker burnout mode: I've seen this before a hundred times; I just can't feel it anymore. We are engaged in decoding the pictures and open ourselves up in the process.

While the easiest reference point may be the photography of Sally Mann, who infamously used her sometimes naked children in her work, Roda's photographs couldn't be more different. He is, first and foremost, an installation artist who uses performative techniques to create tableaux. What is most striking, especially in one photograph where he wears a blond wig and a blank yet slightly sinister expression while his son stands beside him crying, is how the people in the photographs don't appear posed; it's as if they have been snapped--documented--while in the process of their lives. Except the lives depicted in the scenes are not real life; they are heightened memories, personal mythologies slightly perverted, that are part diaristic, part fantastic: The images are frozen and distorted over time. They seem to be becoming something else. They are coded and corrosive. In other words, they are a lot like family life.

Tim Roda

Kate Regan, Toronto Life p. 114

In his highly choreographed prints, Roda and his family are posed in tableaux. Goofy props (rubber chickens, gigantic stuffed animals, party hats) leaven their black-and-white severity. These frozen performance pieces reveal underlying tensions in an otherwise average family. The 28-year-old Pennsylvania-born photographer took Seattle by storm with his first show two years ago (fittingly entitled Family Values). Here, one shot set in an extravagantly cluttered bedroom shows his young son playing with an upside- down crucifix as if it were a doll. In another, father and son, armed with knives, stand under scaffolding hung with rubber chickens. It’s not quite clear how the narrative will develop in each, but Roda’s work has a dark beauty, laced with satire.

Black and White and Roda All Over


GARY MICHAEL DAULT, The Globe and Mail: Exhibit A

Tim Roda at Angell Gallery
$2,000 each. Until July 15,
890 Queen St. W., Toronto;
New York-based photographer Tim Roda constantly insists that the most important part of his large-scale, black and white photographs, now at Toronto's Angell Gallery, is their content -- which is made up, for the most part, of the rather crudely constructed sets Roda himself builds and decorates and populates both with his wife, Allison, and, more frequently, with his son, Ethan.
Much of the pleasure these big, rough-hewn photographs provide, however, is traceable -- for me, at any rate -- not to their content, but rather to the brawny way they work to subvert the conventional expectations of what makes for a quality print: sharpness, crispness, saturation and intensity (black blacks, white whites and carefully modulated, pearlescent greys), an immaculate surface, everything that might be gathered into one demanding word: exactitude.
Roda's photographs eschew exactitude. His prints (leaving their content aside for a moment) are, technically speaking, a delectable, engaging mess: "The rough edges, irregular margins, erratic fixer stains and haphazard tonal range," writes Roda in his artist statement (you can read it at, "are suggestive of the working-class way of life that my grandfather experienced when he came to America as an Italian immigrant." Roda writes affectionately about how his grandfather and his father once built the family home, a swimming pool, a tree fort and deck out of the same wood they used to build the chicken house. His father, he says, once cobbled together a two-car garage "with three sides and wood that looked like a patchwork quilt."
And Roda has clearly inherited his family's sense of environmental ad hoc-ism. He claims, correctly I'm sure, that he is capable of printing "what photographers would consider to be a perfect picture," but maintains, "I would consider that to be imperfect." This elusive perfection would be inconsistent, Roda feels, with what is important to him in a photograph: its presentation of "moments of ambiguity," moments that accumulate in the photos by means of Roda's bringing together of his platforms, partitions, hanging lamps, cables, curtains and stacks of lumber leaning precariously against the walls of his ramshackle photo-theatres and positioning his family therein.
The contrast between the homely beauty of these dusty grey tableaus (their dustiness provided to some extent by the motes of dust and other bits of photo-flotsam that have sifted over the images) and the usually inexplicable activities of Allison and Ethan within them make for a lot of symbolically rich, metaphorically charged moments -- moments that lie just on the far side of explication.
What is interesting too is the degree to which Roda's apparently chaotic photographs are invariably resolvable into beautifully weighted and measured compositions. In his Untitled #65, shown here, Ethan sits desolately beside a mirror, looking abstractly at his knees (and not at the very tiny Chihuahua Roda has somehow pasted into the lower left corner of the picture). Formally, the photograph resolves itself into two sets of structure -- the strong horizontals and verticals that subdivide the right half, and one superb, long diagonal that stretches from the lower right corner (where the dog is) up through Ethan's reflected head, past his real head (albeit in shadow), up through the dangling light bulb, and into the upper right corner. The photograph's content may be ambiguous but its structure is tight as a drum.

Related link: Tim Roda – new works

Family participates in compelling images

Gayle Clemans, The Seattle Times

In your family photographs, there are probably lots of smiling faces, some vacation scenes, kids playing and important family events. In Tim Roda's photographs of his family, there are hints of danger, layers of meaning, fragmented narratives and a collision between fact and fiction. Roda's recent large-scale, black-and-white photographs, on view at Greg Kucera Gallery, are beautiful and alarming.

It's not always entirely clear what's going on in Roda's photographs. At first, some of them seem like enlarged, candid scenes from the Roda home - in one photograph, Roda's son, 7-year-old Ethan, sits on the floor of his room playing with little figures of knights and dinosaurs and castles and ... a crucifix? And whose big bare feet are hanging off the edge of the bunk bed? Incongruous elements fill Roda's images, making us aware that these are actually staged events - conceptual and visual installations, filled with props and symbols, constructed for the camera.

Usually Roda assembles his sets in a day, filling them with materials such as concrete blocks, scrap lumber and various household items - the interplay of these materials is visually engaging and often mysteriously symbolic. After the installations are ready, Roda's family members perform a generally preconceived event or moment, which is photographed by Roda's wife, Allison.

It's good that the sets and props are often very obviously artificial; otherwise, you might wonder how healthy it is for Ethan to participate in these quasiperformances. In one photograph, Ethan wields a pair of large hedge clippers as his dad holds out the grossly elongated neck of a very fake-looking clay bird. Even with the staginess, the suggestion of violence can be disturbing. None of the family members seems particularly happy in these weird and wonderful images. Roda has placed himself in similar territory as Sally Mann, who was criticized for years about her practice of photographing her children in seemingly inappropriate situations.

As with Mann's work, there is also a larger conceptual framework supporting these occasionally disturbing family images. Roda has written that his work is "filled with reverberations of [his] own memories of childhood and family traditions." Roda uses multiple, vaguely symbolic props and familiar settings to encourage you to connect with your own family memories. Like memories, the images are narrative but not completely so; they're filled with sharp visual moments and elusive, fragmented meanings.

Based on the immigrant background of Roda's grandfather, there is a strong current of working-class imagery and tone. Roda often takes on the role of laborer or hunter-provider; we see him with a shotgun, with welding tools, hauling things on his back. Seen in this light, the menacing image of Ethan poised to decapitate the fake bird suggests a tradition of a father passing skills of survival down to his son.

The works are also visually stunning. Roda makes very effective choices in composition, texture and lighting that both compliment the gritty character of the subject matter and that create pleasing, elegant effects. Even the more deliberately gritty scenes contain formal elements - such as a balanced composition or a pleasing repetition of cylindrical forms - that soothe the eye. One image in particular stands out as a stunner: Roda, in black formal attire, and Allison, in white, dance in a long, empty, run-down loft. Again, there is an undercurrent of potential danger - the graceful couple is barefoot and the wood floor is strewn with rough boards and debris.

Roda's technical process is appropriately slapdash and abrasive. He roughly cuts the borders of his images so that they look torn and abused and he allows or even creates chemical splashes and other technical flaws. This treatment of the pictures adds to the atmosphere of his working-class environments and handmade props. Much like the piling up of props and the multiplicity of narratives, the idea of labor is layered into the photographs.

But the overall allure of his images is their strangeness and their familiarity. You can identify with the household settings or familial moments, and you can begin to piece together meaning. But the symbolism seems personal to Roda and the possible meanings are endless and precarious.

Tim Roda Photographs

Suzanne Beal, The Seattle Weekly

Talk to a sibling about an event from your childhood, and you are likely to be surprised. Memory, even within the same clan, is subject to myriad interpretations. One way to forever fix a family's history is to take plenty of pictures. Tim Roda has re-created the past with a series of large-scale photographs in which he, his wife, and their young son are protagonists in scenes inspired by Roda's forebears. Although fictionalized, the photographer's imagery reads like cinema verité - right down to the gritty texture of randomly taken snapshots. Closer examination, however, reveals masterfully composed images made up of deeply symbolic elements. Oftentimes ceramic structures pose as body doubles for hard-to-find props: in Untitled #39, for example, the artist appears riding on the back of a life-size, hand-crafted camel, a biblical allusion to the artist's Catholic upbringing. Untitled #63, in which the artist readies to slit the improbably long elongated neck of a clay chicken, hearkens back to his childhood memories of raising (and slaughtering) fowl. The star of Roda's productions, however, is his son, now age 7, who for the past three years has appeared either centrally or clandestinely in Roda's photographs. Think he's missing from Untitled #41, a work that refers to the artist's ailing grandfather? Look again. Small hands appear from behind a large-scale image of the elder man's face, where they cling to two-dimensional jowls. This picture also incorporates an outline of a body that frames a hanging stopwatch - a droll allusion to the passing of time, family heirlooms, and the grandfather's faulty "ticker." Spanning generations with a single flash, Roda makes his own history.

In Seattle Galleries: Roda's pictures move the heart and soul


If Tim Roda were a horse, he'd be the favorite. His roughly scissored, black-and-white photos featuring himself, his wife and small son made him an instant notable after graduating from the University of Washington with a master's of fine arts degree in 2004.

Ceramics was his academic focus, and sometimes ceramics pop up in his prints: elephant trunks, kiln rubble, figurine curios. His photos are stage sets that imply a play. I resisted their appeal. The roughing-up-your-photos strategy seemed like a ploy, not crucial to the product, as with the Starn Twins. And as for staged photos that explore personal identities, let's say the field is crowded.

Resolving to cast a cold eye on his second solo show at the Greg Kucera Gallery, I changed my mind midway through the viewing experience, finally realizing that Roda's burlesques are true to themselves, powerfully staged and inhabited.

The print of himself dancing with his wife in a construction site with their child blurry amid the house beams, and the image of the three of them slumped together asleep in their traveling clothes, say volumes about intimate relationships without saying a word. His work's about love, and family love in daily life's tough grind is rare content in contemporary art.

Father Knows Best


Tim Roda's latest photographs are hot, muscular, witty, and can't be trusted. They push you around and then apologize. They promise you everything but keep the best of the secrets. Nearly every time they say something serious, they were only kidding. I don't like them. I do love them. And so do a lot of other people, because they're going like crazy at Greg Kucera Gallery, the little red "sold" dots piling up salaciously next to their untitled titles.

Roda is a 28-year-old graduate of the University of Washington's MFA program. He more or less stormed the scene in 2004 when he had his first solo show at the gallery, called Family Album. The current show, in a telling revision, is just called Photographs. It stars a young couple, which happens to be Roda and his wife, Allison, and their 7-year-old son, Ethan - photogenic all - in a series of black-and-white, grainy scenes that look part Blair Witch Project, part Grand Guignol. The stylistic resemblance to documentary imagery is unmistakable, yet the dingy, cluttered scenes are, upon closer inspection, meticulously arranged by the artist. And the action is absurd and surrealistic. Tim disinterestedly inspects a large toy camel with one hand and holds a shotgun in the other while Ethan stands under a bright light, ominously wielding a carrot, sharp end up. Or Tim, in a fat suit, chomps on a burger while Ethan explores a mound of dirt while wearing a scuba mask.

At first glance, it looks like Roda is exaggerating and perverting family life to reveal its malignancies, like picturing a raging domestic subconscious. If only his subversions were that simple. Instead, he is toying with the temptations of photography itself. He provides a mess of information - each scene looks like a construction zone, with scattered lamps, hidden objects and industrial detritus - but much of the information is distraction. Faced with the dense traffic of the imagery, it isn't possible to figure out which roads are dead ends - which details are artifice as artifice, and which are artifice as code. Ultimately, Roda's photographs promise, then withhold, knowledge. The realities of these relationships, identities, even these moments, are only seen in glimpses.

Roda, a native of Pennsylvania, doesn't live in Seattle anymore. He moved last fall to New York, where more of this series plus earlier works are on display at Klemens Gasser & Tanja Grunert Inc. in Chelsea. The earlier photographs are similarly gritty and brash, but smaller, and pinned brutally to plywood chunks, rather than tamed by thin black frames. Roda offsets the obedient framing in the latest series by hacking with scissors at the photographs' edges, double-casting the works as dusty, matte-paper superflats and sculpture, too. He is nothing if not devoted to dramatic tension.

An unfortunate drama presented itself in the place where he made these photographs, in and around the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts in Helena, Montana. The Rodas spent nine months there in 2004 and 2005 for an artistic residency (Roda was once a ceramic sculptor). Ethan's playdates began falling through when the conservative community realized the Rodas were making unusual photographs instead of pottery and failing to attend church. Some of the darkness in the works can be seen as a representation of the sinister view the Montanans had of their interlopers. Social claustrophobia circumscribes the images, hunkering down around the question of whether Roda is exploiting his family by using them in his art. If at first it seems he is, look again. These three are a closed circle. Above all, the series can be seen as the work of a protective father obscuring his family as much as revealing them. (It also represents a successful breadwinner in action.)

Photographers such as Sally Mann and Diane Arbus come to mind in this context, but Roda's images are frozen performances - shot by pressing a button on a 10-second timer - and they have additional resonances in theater and music, especially the family business of the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players and Fiery Furnaces.

The fact that these stagings are family events for the Rodas produces a hunger for the slightest sentimentality, which Roda mostly starves. A certain gravitas appears in its place. Tim kneels at Allison's parted bed curtains as Ethan is apparently leaving her side. Tim, wearing an apron, serves dinner to Ethan, whose eyes are closed and whose cute little tilted head is framed, angelically, by two lit candles.

Ethan is our stand-in. Both as the subject in an artist's photograph and as a 7-year-old in his parents' family, there are things he doesn't, and can't, know. It's still good to be a part of it. Recommended