Curated by Alex Myers
In photography, the concept of isolation has many faces.
How alone can a subject be, for instance, when there is a photographer there, directing and making images? Furthermore, when the viewer is introduced to the image, the nature of the seclusion changes; it is observable. Here we have three photographs made by three women photographers. Though each image displays a woman in solitude, the context and implications of their isolations are vastly different.
Ruth Bernhard (1905-2006) is known for her evocative photography of the human form. Her iconic image, “In Horizontal Box”, is emblematic of her art. The viewer is invited to look upon the form as an exotic phenomenon on display. The experience is objective as Bernhard invites the viewer to perceive the woman not as a person, but instead through her lens as symbol and aesthetic structure. This is a result of the photographer’s intention to quarantine and study the physical form. The photographer is present, yet the figure is isolated—literally in a box—and also from the context of social, political, or cultural ideas; it’s an indifferent, almost scientific isolation, like a butterfly behind glass, like a still life.
Lupita Murillo Tinnen’s (b. 1976) Mourning Sickness is a series of self-portraits that are expressive of her struggle with infertility which she made while in residence here at CPW in 2008. Fulfilling the roles of both photographer and subject, she is truly alone in making these images, which are consequently deliberate and perhaps theatrical. The image “Untitled #1” is an exemplary depiction of her physical and emotional solitude; being without child deepens and intensifies the meaning of isolation. Not only does the barren space reflect her psychological state and physical infertility, but it is also an uninviting space with the bare mattress and wood-paneled walls. It’s a different kind of solitude than Bernhard’s. Here the figure exhumes a feeling of helplessness as she surrenders to her circumstances whereas Bernhard’s image is staged in a sensual, investigative manner. Tinnen’s emotional isolation has been imposed upon her, and she mirrors and mourns her predicament in the creation of this series.
With her series, Stills from Unseen Films, Yijun “Pixy” Liao (b. 1979) invites viewers to project their own interpretations onto each image. The title of Liao’s photograph, “Stranger in her Bedroom” suggests that the subject is, in fact, not alone. Yet its ambiguity allows the viewer to take on the role of the intruder, or perhaps perceive the subject as the intruder. The subject is positioned seemingly unaware of her infringed-upon isolation, and is all the more vulnerable for it. The classification of this photograph as a film still changes the nature of this subject’s apparent solitude. It is temporary; this scene is but a moment of a larger narrative that we are not privy to. There is a heightened sense of voyeurism in the viewer at the quiet violation of privacy.
The combined presentation of these three photographs elicits a commentary on the very nature of photography. Though it can communicate seclusion, the subject/person is never quite alone with the camera and photographer present. Despite this, the medium of photography is able to impart feelings of solitude onto the viewer in various ways. Whereas Liao allows the viewer to insert a narrative in her work, Tinnen has already defined one, and Bernhard neither imposes a narrative nor solicits the viewer to do so. Apart from the viewer’s impressions, each of these photographs provides a different context for the women’s isolation. One subject has been secluded by the photographer and is indifferent to it, one is yielding to the solitude imposed upon her and the third is about to experience a breach in her isolation.
– Alex Myers, Arts Administration Intern