A small tale

The pictures in this exhibition depict people in the abstract or as traces. They function as peculiar yet frank accounts of personal experience. Each of the images is imbued with aspects of sexuality; asking questions about identity and the passing of time. In presenting a fragment or shape, they grant an excerpt of individual concerns and the possibility of disparate conclusions. In the recognition of familiar silhouettes, anatomical facets and varied markings; a sense of vulnerability is conveyed. The provocative nature of even the most clinical of images do not just suggest that something has been lost or forgotten, but rather exists on the edge of another realm or possibility. Perhaps that place is a visceral construction where ones experience collapses between joy and lamentation, or maybe instead, a temporal domain where suffering and beauty are documented expressively by the photographer. In either situation, a unity is communicated in the profiles of familiarity, in which the viewer is permitted to witness and assemble some of their own interpretations and values.

Mother's 25 Mar 1916#53, (c) Miyako Ishiuchi, 2000-2005

The image is direct, almost clinical, yet soft and beautiful. Dark shadows contour the breast while silver tones gently highlight the various skin textures. An illuminated patch of scarred skin sits like a small pond above the nipple and the surface ripples in tiny waves, further drawing the viewer into not only the observation of the scar, but of the whole breast. Questions and ambiguous conclusions may arise about the cause of the scar and what the woman’s life was like, while we also consider our own scars and temporality. Kasahara Michiko writes in her essay included in the book, “Ishiuchi Miyako, Mother’s 2001-2005 Traces of the Future,” that Ishiuchi’s work is a, “…generalized depersonalized depiction…an attempt to decipher her mother’s inner being, the memory embedded in her mother’s body and personal artifacts,” and later adds, “In photographing her mother’s items so simply and objectively she tells a sort of story about not only this woman, but of others too.” (123-124)

Masked Self Portrait, (c) Gary Schneider, 1999

And the end of 1996 Schneider was invited to make a response to the Human Genome Project and decided to make a genetic self-portrait.  The result was a series of images ranging from microscopic views of his own biology including hair, chromosomes and dried blood to imprints of hands, irises and, in this case, part of his face. The texture of the image is evocative of a topographic map somehow existing in a floating scientific ethereality. All of the images together comprise a portrait of his own personal genetic make-up and of the most private nature possible, yet simultaneously can function as an anonymous portrait as we all are comprised of the same parts, regardless of age or ethnicity. (garyschneider.com).

Anatomy, (c) Man Ray, 1921

In Man Ray’s “Anatomy,” a woman’s head extends as far back as possible, completely exposing the clavicle and neck in a way that is utterly erotic and render her totally vulnerable. In the midst of the soft focus and abstract composition, the well-defined jawbone extends to a perfect apex in the center of the frame.  The viewer can get lost in the shape and forget what the depiction actually is, perhaps leading to a disconcertion where the nature of reality and identity are questioned.

Untitled, (c) Diana Michener, from the series Dogs, Fires and Me, 2005

Diana Michener untitled piece published in her 2005 book, “Dogs, Fires and Me,” also causes a disconnect with reality in that we know the two bodies shown cannot be real, yet there is the feeling somehow that they are.  It’s as if they belong there; two headless, armless bodies in long underwear and old-fashioned boots, hanging out, facing one another at he end of a dock.  What has happened to their heads and arms leaves much to the imagination.  Ideas of violence are evoked, as well as the idea that there is a place of belonging for even the most misshapen of human forms or replica’s there-of, therefore expressing ideas of transcendence.

La Mort, Brassaï (c), 1940

Brassaï loved graffiti and was dedicated to offering haunting and straightforward studies of street art and documented many of these around the era of World War II.  In 1940 he refused to apply for a photographer’s permit from the Germans and subsequently was denied permission to create and publish work. He spent years compiling graffiti pictures and became inspired to start etching on his own images transforming them into abstract shapes.  In this carving, which looks something like a face that is almost smiling, there is an amalgamation of urban landscape, primitive art and raw expression, giving voice to both it’s original author and Brassaï’s reverence for art and expression and perhaps frustration with what was going on politically.  It also invokes ideas of transcendence as the original etching is allowed to exist and live on in a photographic form.

Untitled, Nadar (c),1860

Félix Nadar considered himself primarily a caricaturist, however became a quite proficient photographer and successfully opened a portrait studio in 1853 where he photographed prominent Parisians including illustrator Gustave Doré and the poet Charles Baudelaire. The poser for this particular image, however, is unclear.  What is evident though, from writings about Nadar, is how innovation and enthusiasm were crucial to his work and is quoted as stating the importance of understanding the subject immediately.  He said that by doing so the photographer is enabled to create, “… a likeness of the most intimate and happy kind.  This intimate image has comedic tone as we cannot see the sitter’s head and his shoes and socks are still on.

Untitled, André Kertéz (c),1919

The subtitle to this André Kertéz photo is, “My mother’s hands when she was sixty. I have the same hands today.”  It is said that Kertéz was interested in representing the qualities of the world around him with out altering it.  This uncomplicated and somewhat posed shot of his mother’s hands, however, implies both a conceptually utopian and metaphysical read of the world in that his mother’s hand could be his hands; could be any of our hands for that matter.  If we live long enough, we will all have the hands of a sixty year old.  The inevitability of aging and death become a unifier of both time and circumstance.

Untitled, Ame Curtiss (c) ,2009

In my recent image, the silhouette of my boyfriend rests against the background of our Brooklyn apartment and a window to the outside world.  He is sitting at his desk in the work- station of our apartment, right next to mine, where we often times find our selves in spontaneous discussion of both serious matters and humorous.   I often find myself moved emotionally by the moments that just happen which I could never plan. Some of the most important interactions with him occur in the in between spaces of our daily life.  I am grateful for these moments and also painfully aware of how each becomes a memory and can never quite be touched in the exactly same way or be held indefinitely.

Untitled, John Divola (c), from Zuma series, 1977

In John Divola’s Zuma series, he revisited the same spots, documenting the changes that would naturally occur in the spaces over time, as well as adding his own marks, usually by way of graffiti and markings.  In this image, we see the picturesque, yet commonplace image of the ocean at dusk. A fragment of the ocean draws the viewer in through the empty windows, surrounded by a spray painted, rotting wood door. The texture of the spray paint mimics that of the ocean.  To the right we see the wall is peeling off in layers; a small clip to suggest what the rest of the structure is doing.  It is implied that place is falling apart as it sits by the ocean, day in and day out.  Each place put in perspective by the other.  (divola.com)

Untitled, Mary Duffy (c),from Stories of a Body series, 1990

A nude woman stands in the dark directly center in the frame.  She is painted in light on most of her torso and upper legs, providing a covering for her frame. It’s almost a distraction from reality that she is an amputee.  Mary Duffy’s decision to document herself and her disability stems from experiences where she has felt disempowered and unrecognized.  She realizes that how she feels as a disabled person, is not entirely unlike what others might feel as those who identify under the “cloak” of normality. Her images are holding up a mirror for the viewer to question the nature of their own identity as well as their perception of her.

Pantomime, Daido Moriyama (c) ,1965

This dark sillohoutte appears to be walking in heeled boots; like a fetus in drag.  Seeing an upright fetus dislocates ones consciousness and creates a feeling of despairing wonderment.  As arms stretch forward towards the darkness, it seems something has been lost, but is not necessarily asking to be found. Moriyama utilizes photography to unite external fragments from life with his own cognition of his place in the world. Therefore, in this way, perhaps the viewer can accept their own subjective disparities and embrace the lights and shadows of passing life as a way to process both past and present.

Untitled, Mr. Gates (c), 2008

A square picture of a color transparency depicting a wooden construction fence where somebody has simply written “Queen.” The word is written gracefully in cursive and playfully alters the otherwise banal setting.  The connotation of the word itself is varied and can cause a disruption in almost any narrative.  What the noun will first bring to mind for any given person is contingent on their social-economic experience.  Mr. Gate’s image conveys the possible potency of an interjection into an unlikely space that can speak of both pride and distain. Although the fence will function the same way it did before “Queen” was written on it, the word cannot go unnoticed. Further, it is given a new existence in the photograph.

New York, 1980, from the series Letter's from the People, Lee Freidlander (c)

The picture is shot head on, the words placed in the middle of the frame.  A thick crack runs through the name and another runs diagonal through the word, “will.”  The phrase immediately causes the viewer to ask the question, “What will Kate do?” Is this another spirited innuendo of a woman’s promiscuity, declared simply with grease pen on an old concrete wall?  We will never know who Kate is, but we know exactly who Kate is.  Kate is someone who probably put out, She is also somebody who was probably loved by a parent, friends, lovers.  The ambiguity of the persona lends a ubiquitous identity to her and the viewer simultaneously knows all of the story and none of it at all.

Dancer, Irving Penn (c), 1999

In 1999 Irving Penn made this tremendous series, in which he photographed dancer Alexandra Beller posing and dancing nude.  The fleshy and voluptuous woman stands fully lit in the center of the frame.  She is facing the camera, her knees slightly bent and feet arched up so only her toes would be holding her frame if were not for extended arms and flayed hands positioned against the rubbery dark backdrop.  Her left breast juts out, creating a crescent moon shadow beneath and her torso is slightly tilted as a slight backward bend gives way to a head completely dropped back, so we cannot see her face. Her head is completely extended backwards, much like the woman in Man Ray’s piece.  Except now we get auxiliary information; a whole body in fact.  The image is sexual, dynamic and forceful and if such a thing as positive representation of the female exists in modern culture through the lens of contemporary art rhetoric, than it has been accomplished by Penn in his vision and documentation, and by Bella in her performance.

Transbody 15, Otsuka Tsutomu (c), 1995

In a completely abstract depiction of the body, the legs, imagined torso and an obscure bulge cannot be assigned to any one person.  In surrealistically portraying a whole body in an assemblage of three legs, Tsutumo suspends body parts so they become anonymous and interchangeable.  The image is a self- portrait yet is constructed to be intangible and floating.  Tsutumo asserts the images have no hidden meaning, yet we can extrapolate from the beautifully executed piece considerations of identity, gender and even mortality.

3 thoughts on “A small tale

  1. Your introduction for this grouping is such an honest reflection and sets the tone so well for the following works you presented. I really enjoyed the way you highlighted the fragmentary and vulnerable natures of these works.

  2. I really enjoy how the “Masked Self Portrait” reminds me of a cloud, and how our imagination can anthropomorphize just about anything.

  3. everything in this exhibition is so fragile and vulnerable. I enjoy the comparison of Man Ray’s Anatomy to Irving Penn’s Dancer. They are both images of the neck, the most vulnerable and sensuous part of our bodies and it make me feel a little nervous for them, exposing themselves like that.

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