Snapshot art

Las Vegas photographer Gabriel Brandt captures—with powerful immediacy— the everyday beauty of American life

“Sara at Home” by Gabriel Brandt

“Sara at Home” by Gabriel Brandt

Photo By David Robert

In Gabriel Brandt’s photograph “Sara at Home,” a model sits in a kitchen at a glossy red and white tiled table. She is wearing a bright green shirtdress, the kind worn in the 1960s. The sunlight coming through the kitchen window is warm, intimate; it illuminates the kitchen’s reds and greens, yet also gives the room a sleepy, languid feel. Amid the simple, lazy beauty of this scene, the model stares up at the camera with a gaze of distrust, even hostility. She looks like a cross between the ethereally beautiful actress/model Milla Jovovich and an angry teenage punk rocker.

It is a photograph that powerfully reveals Brandt’s unique talent: To frame the beauty of the everyday and the discomfiting reality of human brokenness in the same portrait.

Brandt’s Yellow Street and 4th Avenue, a series of color photographs revealing ordinary people in ordinary places, is on display at Sierra Arts Gallery inside the Riverside Artist Lofts. The photographs seem startlingly ordinary, lacking glamour. They depict, for example, trailers, grandparents in bathing suits and Krispy Kreme Doughnut shops. They have the intensity and immediacy of a snapshot.

But what a snapshot.

In one portrait, for instance, a plump woman in a colorful crocheted tank top stands outside a tiny gray clapboard house. The color of her outfit seems incongruent, at odds with the drabness of the house. She looks as if she has been caught off-guard by the photographer while on her way out to her car. She looks transfixed, suspended in time.

Many of Brandt’s subjects wear this look of off-guardedness. It’s as if they didn’t have time to dress up their imperfect selves before company came, didn’t have time to bring out the fine china. Yet there is an arousing intimacy displayed in many of the photographs, as if the photographer were embracing the model in the split second that it takes for the camera’s shutter to click, acting at once as a romancer and an intruder.

Brandt’s models are posed, but the staged nature of the photographs does not undermine the realism. Many of the models stare directly into the camera, appearing fragile yet combative, engaged in a complex standoff with the camera and photographer. Their gaze, it seems, is not meant for the photograph’s hypothetical viewer, but for the photographer himself. The intimacy of the models’ stare turns the viewer into almost a voyeur, someone who has stumbled upon a powerful encounter between photographer and subject and must reverentially look away.

“In … escapist moments I turn the camera lens toward these women," Brandt says in his artist’s statement. "And I hear them whispering ballads about imaginary places where fable and dream eclipse one another until both become unrecognizable."