July 6 – August 18, 2016
Thursday, July 6th, 6-8pm
James Harris Gallery is pleased to present “Body Language,” a group exhibition of black and white photography including work by Diane Arbus, Bill Brandt, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Bill Burke, Harry M. Callahan, Robert Capa, Ralph Gibson, Emmet Gowin, Helen Levitt, Andrea Modica, Rodrigo Moya, and Henry Wessel. This show focuses on images that illustrate the personal language of the body through subtle nuance of gesture, contrapposto and emotive facial expression. The works in the show capture moments that offer insight into intimate human interactions and the inner psyche through depicting their subjects both in controlled interior spaces and in external environments. The psychology of the body shapes human experience and identity, where posture and movement shows an honest expression of our core beliefs and emotions. The artists in this show demonstrate empathy and familiarity for these figures, by either assuming the role as passive witness or taking an active role as collaborator. Perhaps they discover their own reflection through their subjects and in this way, these works highlight a collective human experience that we can all relate to and locate within ourselves.
Many works included in the show are set in enclosed interior spaces, where the photographer’s vision merges with the inner psychology of their subject to construct emotionally charged portraits as a collaborative and relational endeavor. American artists Harry Callahan and Emmet Gowin (a student of Callahan’s) were interested in portraying the most intimate subject matter, their family. Callahan sensually photographs his muse and wife Eleanor in deliberately orchestrated poses, often facing away from the camera, in a way that would accentuate a quality of light and the moving intimacy of this interaction. The graphic contrasts of light and dark in “Eleanor, Chicago” (1943) create a dramatic formal impact with the most subtle of scenes. Emmet Gowin shows his naked pregnant wife in a domestic environment, capturing a pose that is intimate and casual. Gowin’s photograph is less formal in composition and gesture, yet shares the undeniable connection between the photographer and his subject.
In another work, Ralph Gibson constructs a more cinematic interior scene, creating a dramatic narrative as his personal artistic expression. As part of a body of work influenced by Hollywood cinema and Alfred Hitchcock films, “Model Relaxing” demonstrates Gibson’s ability to create an air of suspense and heightened sense of voyeurism through dramatic lighting and surreal juxtaposition.
Other works in the show depict figure or figures outside in a landscape or urban environment. These images celebrate the intimacy and particularity of everyday life as well as the artist’s role as witness. Bill Burke, who also studied with Callahan, shows a formal concern through a particular vantage point of the camera in “Woman in pool,” where he captures a candid moment on a summer day. Throughout his career, Burke documented scenes throughout his travels where he remained an outsider, yet the viewer gets a glimpse into the artists experience as visitor or momentary witness. Helen Levitt’s street photography documents candid interactions throughout working-class neighborhoods in New York. In “NYC” (1978) a couple shares a moment on a subway; their loving gaze and hand gestures suggest a tenderness and rich history between these two individuals that provoke the imagination. Henry Wessel has been photographing the American West for over 30 years. Rather than romantic images of the mountains and redwoods, Wessel is more interested in showing the familiar urban sites such parking lots, nude beaches, and suburbia. In this way, the artist captures an aspect of daily life that is both particular and unspecific, where the viewer recognizes something of their own personal experience within each work.
The everyday settings of Manuel Alvarez Bravo’s images are imbued with political and cultural significance for the artist who approaches his work as social commentary. His work holds the irony of employing the vocabulary of European modernism in his search to capture authentic Mexican identity, rooted in socialist ideals. In Mexican artist Rodrigo Moya’s “Polvereda, Ciudad de México,” the artist captures a dust cloud in Mexico City as part of his on going coverage of political unrest in Latin America in the 1950’s. American artist Diane Arbus’ photographs are also socially weighted. While the image of the woman sprawled out in the grass might at first glance appear to be just a casual snapshot of a free spirited individual, this piece is part of a body of work by Arbus that captures marginalized subjects, in this case the mentally disabled, calling questions around the moral/ethical implications of photography. Yet for Arbus, this also had personal resonance, who allegedly struggled with her own psychological issues before committing suicide at the age of 48. While her covers varied subjects, the artist’s motivation to create pictures of her “internal world externalized” offers insight into both subject and artist.
The works in this show are from a wide range of time and place, but they share in depicting core human experiences. The images capture the body as a reference to both psychological space and a greater political social sphere that we all occupy. These works demonstrate that our physical forms express a personal and social history of human interactions where a look or a pose can silently communicate the ethos of our time.