Space and Mirrored Self

Currently, Francesca Woodman has two shows in New York: at the Guggenheim and a separate selection of blue prints at Marion Goodman. To look at Woodman’s photographs is to constantly read the environment through the psychological and vice versa. At the Guggenheim, I related the logic of Lucy Soutter’s essay Dial “P” for Panties: Narrative Photography in the 1990s; the examination of female self-representation and how such constructions are built, layered, and interpreted in the composition of photography.

The following selections from the ICP’s permanent collection were pulled to show how women photograph themselves and each other, especially in relation to environment. Works by Justine Kurland, Katy Grannan, Dayanita Singh were included in Another Girl, Another Planet, the 1999 photography exhibition curated by Gregory Crewdson and Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn— Another Girl, Another Planet was the basis for Soutter’s essay.

But this time, let’s not look at these photographs through the lens of the staged moment, let’s consider how environment and psychology function in representations of self.

Dayanita Singh, Untitled, 2002

Francesca Woodman, Polka Dots, November 1976

Singh’s photograph of a domestic interior contains a similar quality of light as Woodman’s interiors, but it expresses the lived-in warmth of the absent presence that consumes these books, reposes in the chair, and consults the clock. The floor is spotless, a reflection of orderly quietude. Woodman’s decrepit interiors range from the romantic to the sinister. In Polka Dots, the dilapidated wall and the floor mirror each other: peels and crackles.

Left: Letizia Battaglia, A prostitute and two of her friends killed by the Mafia, 1983
Right: Letizia Battaglia, Young girl with soccer ball in the neighborhood where drugs are sold, 1982

Justine Kurland, Smoke Bombs, 1998

Girls in the streets, prostitutes murdered by the Mafia, young American women passing time in a suburbanized Eden—Kurland and Battaglia show us a fraction of the marginally homosocial. Kurland’s girl gang on the brink of adulthood are shown vagabonding in a space that evokes the iconic expansiveness of American landscape. Battaglia’s Young girl with soccer ball is a tightly composed picture, indicating the social and physical claustrophobia of the urban street.

Left: Lotte Jacobi, Beate Sauerlander, Amityville, Long Island, 1940
Right: Katy Grannan, Untitled, 1988

Taken forty eight years apart, the portraits by Jacobi and Grannan feature exquisitely elastic qualities of the expansive and the compact. Jacobi’s photograph is minimally composed, showing us the caressed optimism of aristocratic demeanor. Grannan’s photograph is less triumphant than Jacobi’s in visual approach, with its busier edges and awkward posturing (especially those fingers). But the sitter’s defiant confidence is framed by the objects of a comfortable life, comforts that contain odds we cannot name—we do not know them—but her gaze acknowledges their existence.

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1 Response to Space and Mirrored Self

  1. Reblogged this on Fuzzypictures's Weblog and commented:
    always an interesting read, especially on a rainy day like today

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