Portraiture arises from exchanges – however short-lived or unequal – between artists and their subjects. Each of the four Winnipeg-born photographers featured in Candid, which opened several weeks ago at Platform Centre, has a distinct means of relating to the people she photographs: the exhibition offers a nuanced and occasionally tense survey of the varied outcomes.
Early documentary works by Laura Letinski provide a starting point. Photographing presumed strangers in semi-public environments, the photos are implicitly unpremeditated. A 1987 Miss Nude Manitoba contestant opens her cloak, gaze locked somewhere in the middle distance; at a dog show, one awkward girl hides her face behind a Pomeranian while another minds her collie, eyeing the camera doubtfully.
Maya de Forest
If Letinski’s images serve to crystallize provisional relationships, Maya de Forest documents the approaching breakdown of one that’s well-established. Ten years ago, de Forest’s mother was in her mid-seventies and experiencing something of a personal revival (she took up flamenco) while simultaneously beginning to retreat into her native Japanese, widening a communication barrier with her daughter. Unsparing and expectant, de Forest’s photographs reveal little about the older woman, who appears alternately oblivious and leerily indifferent to the camera. Instead, her own anxious attention becomes the work’s main subject, the camera serving as both a fulcrum and a barrier to understanding.
Karen Asher also knows her subjects, but her approach is to concoct unfamiliar situations for them to grapple with, documenting the results. Though situated outside the frame, Asher is more an active participant in the ensuing pandemonium than a catalyst or conductor, an approach that unsettles the performative hierarchy of the typical photo shoot. In her recent portraits, paired subjects navigate one another’s physical presence as if operating their bodies for the first time, or else they seem to slip their boundaries, collapsing into one another. Shot in close quarters, the flash capturing unresolved movements, the images are bracing in their intimacy, strangeness, and unexpected tenderness.
Elaine Stocki’s hand-coloured silver prints attempt no such tenderness. Using strangers as props in harshly-lit studio compositions, Stocki reduces her subjects to anonymous art-historical, formal, and tonal (which is to say, racial) signifiers. She invokes the medium’s uncomfortable social history – photo chemistry and equipment was and largely still is calibrated to Caucasian skin tones – and questionable artist-subject dynamics pulled from art history (Edward Curtis, Yves Klein), but seems less interested in interrogating these than in exploiting them for aesthetic impact. The work’s prevailing mood of entitlement and feigned disinterest, though perhaps honest (and even interesting), is remarkably unpleasant.
Curator Derek Dunlop‘s installation intersperses the four bodies of work, inviting comparison, reconsideration, and (as with any treatment of human relationships) judgment. This even as it reminds us with photography, we’re only ever getting half the picture.