31 Women in Photography

New York

Camilo Laguillo: Untitled (2010). Pigmented ink, inkjet: All images courtesy the artists and the Humble Art Foundation, New York.Camilo Laguillo: Untitled (2010). Pigmented ink, inkjet: All images courtesy the artists and the Humble Art Foundation, New York.

By Talia Shipman and Emily Stoddart

31 Women in Photography
Hasted Kraeutler/Humble Art Foundation
July 26 – August 17, 2012

Located this year in Chelsea, 31 Artists in Photography is the third instalment of the Humble Art Foundation’s biennial dedicated to showcasing “the most innovative women in new art photography”. Similar to the Foundation’s past projects, the exhibition features a strong cast of artists, all female, who embody a diverse range of artistic approaches. Curated by Natalia Sacasa, senior director of Luhring Augustine, and Humble Arts founder Jon Feinstein, the show combines established photographers with recent graduates. Stemming from a wholly democratic method (and well-meaning in its aspirations), the exhibition is both wide-ranging in content if slightly cautious in its execution.

Robyn Cumming: Lady #6 (2008): Chromogenic print.Robyn Cumming: Lady #6 (2008): Chromogenic print.Converging on topics such as notions of representation, constructed tableaux, and post-modern and industrialized featurelessness, the dominant aesthetic sensibility in 31 Women in Photography is an allegiance to the self-made, studio-based image. A strong argument for the necessity of “pictorial” art and illusion reigns supreme, as well. Based on her real-life experiences of taking out a student loan to pay for her MFA, Haley Bueschelen’s My Banker (2012) is a notable example of such investigation. Bueschelen depicts a dream-like construction of a compelling, surreal scene between artist and banker – ironically, in her school’s studio. Indeed, many of these artists – such as Robyn Cumming, Katherine Di Turi and Monika Sziladi – portray artifice in identity with a sophisticated restraint and tenacity. Via cropping, the specific use of digital manipulation and a direct staged approach, the artists tease out underlying disruption in social and individual perspectives.

With Portrait under Matthew Brady’s Skylight (2009), Marget Long draws attention to the physical experience of photography through a brilliantly banal portrait of a dying plant. Both subject and title connote daily routine and subjectivity, while casting the experience into a staged result. This conceptual attitude toward notions of representation – being both subjectively experiential and specifically constructed – is a topic worth considering from a curatorial perspective and could have been played out to even greater use in this show.

In the case of Lourdes Jeanette, a sensitive inquiry into a particular socio-economic reality is presented quite successfully, thereby revealing another avenue of artistic pursuit. An untitled work from 2010 depicts a scene taken directly from the artist’s observations while documenting the gang civilization of the Piru West Tampa Bloods, a group led by her mother’s brother. Acting as participant-observer, and avoiding a descriptive title, the artist successfully avoids the condemnation of benefiting from the harsh sub-culture in which this gang resides. The intimacy of the shot is revealed by its visual impact and poignant subject depiction rather than its socio-economic context. More 'masculine', perhaps, than other images selected for this show – for example, the more 'feminine' and well-known Aneta Bartos’ Pond (2009) – Jeanette’s work was selected as the cover image for the exhibiton's press release. Ironic or not, the image begets further consideration on topics related to how gender influences the formation of ideas about art, artists and aesthetic value.

Lourdes Jeannette: Untitled (2010): Archival inkjet print.Lourdes Jeannette: Untitled (2010): Archival inkjet print.Feminist perspectives in aesthetics are, by and large, attuned to the cultural influences that exert power over subjectivity: the way that art both reflects and perpetuates the social formation of gender, sexuality and identity. By controlling the context of their work, these artists open up perspectives regarding art and aesthetic categories via the use of photography. In doing so, these women are undeniably at the forefront of new and progressive possibilities of contemporary photography. This is not, however, reflected to its full potential by the curatorial selection of this show. Any serious attempt to critically assess each artist’s individual talent is undermined; the selected works’ scale and subject matter is streamlined to reflect each other. Nevertheless, the exhibition provided an invitation for a greater consideration and conversation about the shifting definition, investigation and pursuit of art photography today while showcasing a very promising group of artistic talent.