Rosen's photographs give dancers a flash of fame

Art

Art Column

September 27, 2007|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,Sun Art Critic

Documenting a subculture rarely seen by Westerners, local photographer Betty Rosen has returned from her recent trip to Thailand with more than 100 striking portraits of transgendered exotic dancers.

Rosen's empathy and compassion for her subjects whom she met at a nightclub in the southeastern city of Phuket is clear in the large-scale ink-jet photographs on view at C. Grimaldis Gallery.

But as a spectator, Rosenberg did not participate in the way of life her pictures describe. Consequently, they do not have quite the moral authority of, say, Nan Goldin's impassioned visual diaries of New York's East Village scene during the 1970s, or Larry Clark's spaced-out narratives of dysfunctional Midwestern youth. We never see the grittier aspects of Thailand's infamous sex trade.

Moreover, Rosen's photographs were all shot inside the club with a flash attachment mounted on the camera, a technique that illuminates her subjects in a familiar bright aureole of celebrity but also emphasizes the glittering facade over the interior life, which remains inscrutable.

The harsh lighting gives the pictures the instant visual appeal of fashion photos or paparazzi shots, but at the expense of making them share the blank impersonality of most mass-produced imagery. The photographs are all surface and style - voguish and knowing yet also oddly empty.

One may wish to glimpse the private individual inside the frilly costumes and spit-curl coiffures but one also realizes that this is just the opposite of what these performers want. The elaborate carapace of disguise and dissimulation behind which they live is, in fact, precisely what gives them license to express their truest selves.

Rosen accepts her subjects' carefully constructed personas unconditionally and offers us a vision of the men as they would wish to be seen. Decked out in their fabulous, ultra-feminine finery and dripping rhinestone jewelry, they become, at the instant the shutter is tripped, the impossible objects of desire they imagine themselves to be.

Wishes runs through Saturday at C. Grimaldis Gallery, 523 N. Charles St. Call 410-539-1080 or go to cgrimaldisgallery.com.

A look at self

Renee Stout's intriguing exhibition Journal: Book One, at Hemphill Fine Arts in Washington, presents about 30 of the artist's recent paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture and photographs exploring themes of personal identity and self-discovery.

Stout's art is complex and highly conceptual. Many of her images are inspired by African and Caribbean folklore and artworks, such as the carved Nkisi power sculptures of Congo, whose devotees believe they possess magical properties in prophecy and healing.

One of Stout's installations, for example, is titled Spiritual Supplies: From New Orleans to Spanish Harlem. It consists of dozens of carefully labeled packages of traditional herb potions and other folk remedies for a variety of physical and psychological ailments, including wayward husbands and wives.

The Rootworker Possessed, a photographic self-portrait, depicts the artist as an enraptured, shamanistic figure in a ritual healing ceremony. The muted colors and slightly blurred outlines of the figure suggest the trancelike state experienced by earnest supplicants to the gods.

Journal: Book One runs through Oct. 27 at Hemphill Fine Arts, 1515 14th St. N.W., Washington. Call 202-234-5601 or visit hemp hillfinearts.com.

Positive images

In the Adamson Gallery, one flight down from Hemphill in the same building, there's also a terrific exhibition of artist Chuck Close's mural-scale daguerreotype images printed on fabric.

For the past several years, Close has been experimenting with the now-obsolete daguerreotype process, which produces a single positive image on a light-sensitive metal plate.

Earlier exhibits have showcased Close's one-of-a-kind daguerreotype originals. For the present show, he's digitally scanned those images and reprinted them on large fabric panels.

The show presents several of Close's soft-focus floral images as well as marvelously sensitive portraits of the artist's friends and colleagues, including a ravishing likeness of fellow photographer and video artist Lorna Simpson.

Chuck Close: New Work runs through Oct. 20 in the Adamson Gallery, 1515 14th St. N.W., Washington. Call 202-232-0707 or visit adamsoneditions.com. glenn.mcnatt@baltsun.com

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