ArtNews Jan 2007

Paul Shambroom



Photographer Paul Shambroom felt compelled to grapple artistically with the attacks of September II, 2001, but was ambivalent about the nation's belligerent response to the event. Mixing posed portraits with documentary records of training exercises, his ongoing "Security" series respectfully articulates his skepticism about the Department of Homeland Security's efforts to prepare and equip the country's police officers and firefighters.

The artist gained access to the department's disaster-training sites in Nevada and New Mexico. His straightforward approach enhances the strangeness of such images as a SWAT team storming a ranch-style house, men in hazmat suits spraying chemical foam over a prosaic sedan, and a gigantic Donald Duck head, grinning malevolently in an abandoned playground as if it were the last remnant of a vanished civilization.

Shambroom has also created nearly life-size portraits that draw on 18th century conventions for their heroic poses, and that are printed on canvas and varnished. His portrait of a Minnesota Air National Guardsman wearing an armored suit in an autumnal birch forest with a bomb-sensing robot is particularly surreal. The scene's bucolic innocence poignantly undercuts the action-figure heroism.

The peculiar achievement of the "Security" series lies in Shambroom's studiously neutral approach. Shot without apparent irony or editorializing, the images present our first responders as ordinary human beings even while showing them in dramatic situations.

-Mary Abbe