Behind The Lens Plus is an ongoing online exhibition of photographic-based work by woman-identifying individuals. It is the companion exhibition to Behind the Lens 2020: Women in Photography at the Rhode Island Center for Photographic Arts.
at the lake by Catalina Aranguren ––– the photographic equivalent of a quilt: a collection of the patterns, movements, and textures that make up this single, multifaceted life.
At least ten separate lives converge at this choreographic moment. Each person is fully absorbed in their tiny task at hand. Each moves at a different speed and in a different direction. And not one person is looking at the camera. But this image isn’t really about motion. It’s a little bit more about pieces.
at the lake documents at least three generations: how they play together, relax together, problem-solve together. It documents a family, a village, a trip, a summer, a body of water. And it documents this life like a quilt might. From the stripes down the side of the house to the stripes down the sitting woman’s shirt, to the flowers in the bushes and the flowers on the girl’s bathing suit––it isn’t planned, but it all makes beautiful sense. The young boy’s raised heel is light in the way that the thick heel of the orthopedic sneaker on the lounge chair, is not. All the subjects in this piece feel like players on the same team before they’re each up to bat, or dancers from the same troupe preparing for individual numbers backstage. There’s an unspoken kinship, fluidity, and ease.
In quilt tradition, a whole is made from the sum of whatever parts you have. When Catalina Aranguren says that she doesn’t go out looking for subjects, but rather finds textures, shapes, and relationships between elements and records how they come together, you fully believe her. If we fall into this image because of one thing, it isn’t because of the subject matter: it’s because of the sensibility. Here, at the lake, we might believe that we are all connected by some invisible energy, tucked into the fabric of everyday life.
Self-portrait with Me #2 by I-Lun Huang, from the series Self-portrait with Me ––– a character study of the dual human psyche: how we can (or cannot) document our impulsive Id with our methodical Ego.
Enter the ‘Id’ and ‘Ego.’ The Id is the instinctual pull that links us closer to animals. It’s the one-tracked seeker of instant gratification, and the primal whine that sounds like “I want” and “I need.” The Ego is the tone of restraint that elevates us into higher-thinking. It’s the contemplative hero who knows the reward without seeing it, and the final words of logic that sound like “not today” and “it’s not that simple.”
If the Id is one’s unconscious, impulsive self, then the Id might resemble a child. If the Ego is one’s all too-conscious, restrained self, then the Ego might resemble a parent. When we apply these roles to a popular parent-child pair, we might cast the Id as the Son of God, and the Ego as the Virgin Mary. And because both the Id and Ego are parts of one person’s psyche, then the Id and Ego might have the same face. And they might also be poised in a completely theatrical and entirely impossible version of the Pieta, the Italian Renaissance sculpture of Christianity’s Holy Mother and Son which launched Michelangelo toward greatness. I-Lun Huang wants to understand how the Id and the Ego might be two sides of the same coin. So, she has created an alternate reality that visualizes both of these components of nature, called Self-portrait with Me #2.
But, whereas the Pieta idolizes figures in the Christian faith, Huang’s work––the second in a series exploring the dual psyche––is plaintive, tragic, thespian, and campy, all at the same time. The relationship between Id and Ego approximates parasitism more closely than symbiosis. The Id is much too pale, and very, very dead. The Ego, with blood-colored tears done up in theater-grade makeup, is either over-mourned or under-affected. The red lines in the work are a high-drama illustration of Jesus’ crucifixion wounds.
But the curtain rises: the charade is up. The red lines might only be puppet strings, flattening and falsifying one of the most iconographic portraits in the Western world.
Untitled by Shalini Ray ––– a healing exercise commemorating family history through portraiture, pieced together using inherited objects from the photographer’s late grandfather, outside the home he built.
Somewhere in between dollhouse, still life, and sacred offering, is Shalini Ray’s catalogue of grief ‘detritus.’ A creased Kaftan shirt, a weathered Victrola, a leafless hedge, and a simple but solid dining chair. These were things Ray’s grandfather used or cherished, touched often or seldom, loved or tolerated. They were things he crafted, was given, or acquired. They were old things he took with him across borders, or new things he earned for himself. The nuances of his relationship with each object may or may not be known. Now, they are carefully lined up outside the home he built. A white drape behind the objects feels like a backdrop. It’s a few months after his passing, and Ray is trying to take her grandfather’s portrait.
Even down to the grain of the image, there’s a desire to grasp a passage of time that Ray couldn’t know firsthand. She reaches across forty-some years, to when her grandfather built this home, and seventy-some, to the way Ray’s family lived before the Partition of India forced them to flee. She reaches across miles too––the nine hundred between Bangladesh and India, the path that Ray’s family traversed for safety, and the eight thousand between India and the U.S., where the photographer resides. The reckoning we witness here is painful, but also resolute. Imagination, relic objects, and the sense that we come from many people and many places, are sustaining things.
Haidy by Laurène Southe ––– a grounding and empathetic vignette that models power, resolve, and moxie rather than accessory, fashion, or media.
Haidy shouldn’t be mistaken for a perfume commercial, a Marie Claire ad, or any product shot. The subject’s expression is placid, but not plastic: elevated, but not couture. Her makeup is minimal (if lip balm counts as makeup). The suit buttons on her sleeve only serve to command attention back to the shape of her eyes, and the dark silhouette of her hair against the light grey sky are more striking and simply more important than anything she’s wearing. In fact, the suit she put on might even be ill-fitted. We see the fabric of the jacket pool at her elbow, and the shoulders slope a little too far past the frame of the image. The point of the shot isn’t to sell us that jacket. The jacket is as necessary as the strands of straw-like grass in the foreground. It’s a transitional phrase in the visual kind of biography that photographer Laurène Southe shapes.
Though we may be deliberately trained to gloss over poses like hers, when we are undistracted by a product or a call to action, we can refocus on the gravity of poised photography. The focal point of this image is Haidy, and this isn’t her headshot. It’s her vignette. It’s the pause she took at her graduation speech, her poetry slam, her penalty shot. It’s the resolve she carried into a performance review, a hospital waiting room, a funeral home. It’s the moment when she was strong for her family, and the moment when she was strong for herself.
When I reached out about including Southe’s piece in Behind The Lens Plus, the photographer shared the following: “I believe that as a black Austrian citizen, it is my duty to bring out new faces of the country with great potential.” It’s a pressurized sense of purpose, to say the least. But Haidy, hailing from Cairo and now residing in Austria, is an unsigned model. It was hard to find work in her field when this shot was taken, and it’s definitely harder now. This portrait of her doesn’t come with a contract or a salary, but unlike most client shots, it advocates for her as a whole human, a full artist, and an individual that brings the narrative of her past and a vision for her future into every moment. When we look at Haidy, we hope that the real Haidy’s future clients will give her just as much space to fill as Southe did.
If you entered the call but weren’t selected in this collection––no worries! New selections will be published regularly, and all entries are considered for selection throughout the duration of the show. There is still no set end date for this online selection process, so the exhibition will continue to grow.
About the juror:
Grace Marie DeWitt (she/her/hers) is one of the exhibiting artists in Behind The Lens 2020: Women in Photography, RICPA’s in-gallery companion exhibition to Behind The Lens Plus. DeWitt is a Maryland-based interdisciplinary artist, fellow of the public programs department at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and communications and gallery associate at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center.