I’d always thought of ‘Lucky Tiger’ as a cheap Chinese aftershave lotion, its name promising its users success in the hunting of women. Laurel Nakadate may not have had this particular association in mind, but her tiger is certainly out for sexual adventure: it’s crouching right there on the crotch of her bikini, ready to pounce. And she invites men to paw her. Posing as a Lolita updated for our times, Nakadate goes off on an American road trip with a big, virile pick-up (her work involves a lot of word-plays), posing for the camera in contemporary cheesecake mode that owes a lot to music and exercise videos, advertisements, calendars and soft-core porn. The pictures she takes are purposely ‘bad’ (another subliminal wordplay), but they’re really just a pretext. It’s what comes next that gives her work its punch: she invites middle-aged men (found on Craigslist) and invites them to fondle the pictures with inked fingers. But what they see is not what they get. “I want to be the one who’s hunted,” Nakadate explains, “[but] I also like the idea of turning the tables – the idea of them thinking that they’re in charge or that they’re in power and they’re asking me for something and then I turn it on them, where I’m the director and the world is really my world.”
Elina Brotherus’ self-portrait, Femme à sa toilette, marks a moment in her series The New Painting where she began to delve more deeply into art history and leave behind the more autobiographical aspect of her work. For those who think of her primarily as a still, solitary presence contemplating vast landscapes of pristine beauty, this sudden close-up comes as a shock, as if we opened the door to the bathroom without realising a stranger was inside. The work’s title, of course, tells us that she is thinking here of the female nude as seen by Degas, Cézanne , Bonnard and male painters belonging to the rich tradition going back to such Renaissance masters as Bellini, but I am struck by a resemblance to a nude ‘à sa toilette’ by a female painter, the Impressionist Berthe Morisot: we see the same profile in both studies, the same expanse of white flesh. Morisot’s subject, however, is still an object of delectation, whereas Brotherus isn’t really giving us a nude at all, but rather a self-portrait, a confession and admission of vulnerability rather than an image of titillation. It is best appreciated within her larger series of melancholic self-portraits set within modest domestic interiors, mattress-on-the-floor kinds of places suggesting only momentary relief on a long journey.
Text by William A Ewing
Luis Gispert sees his work situated at an intersection of certain arcane aesthetic ideals, notions of the constructed photographic image, and an interest in concepts of the picturesque and sublime in landscape photography. Unlike a number of his fellow artists, however, he has no interest in a seamless weave; on the contrary, it’s the rough seams that give the work its vigour. Gispert puts the viewer in the back seat of richly upholstered cars or trucks and takes us off on a ride through the Californian desert and the Grand Tetons. Or so it would appear. It’s hard not to think of these interiors as a video game, but fact is stranger than fiction, and facts they are – of a kind.
Given his dramatic mountainscapes infused with otherworldly light (the colours are cast at exposure or later during printing, and the kind of cast depends on his mood), one might expect David Benjamin Sherry to respond to the question of key influences by naming great American photographers like Ansel Adams or Minor White, but instead
he cites a roster of painters or installation artists who work with colour and light – among them Robert Irwin, John McCracken, Ann Truitt and Paul Thek, along with artists who “take flight from nature”, like Robert Smithson and Georgia O’Keeffe.
Katy Grannan considers her pictures to be portraits. If they are, why title them all‘anonymous’? Part of the answer lies in the fact that they have all agreed to be photographed; she has tipped her hand, relinquishing the power of the candid shot of the street photographer for a risky collaborative portrait session.This might have given guarded results, but happily the complicity has produced images of raw power.
While not denying the label ‘portraits’, I question the designation because it doesn’t quite do justice to the pictures. They are really not so much about individuals as about the range of prideful individuality among human beings, and their common fate, symbolized, I think, by that ubiquitous white wall. Grannan accepts that each person has a rich history, with its victories and defeats, which a single image can only hint at, but it’s the sum total of her portraits that gives this work its power. Caught in the blinding glare of the California sun, restless and worn yet often possessed of fierce pride, the figures stand, shift, turn, look away – resigned to the next throw of the dice while not holding out much hope that it will go their way.
Text by William A Ewing