Amy Elkins: Photographs of Contemporary Masculinity
Orange Coast College, Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion
Through December 1, 2018
By Liz Goldner
Photos of men as objects of beauty, athleticism, vulnerability and aggression have a special fascination in a world saturated with images of elegant women. This surprising series of portraits, many of them carefully posed, bring to the viewer an often-gentler representation of men, along with several images portraying them in aggressive poses.
Elkins’ “Wallflower” series is especially compelling as it depicts well-built men—from the waist up—many of them posing against flowered wallpaper, all staring wistfully at the camera, exhibiting their vulnerability. Photographed in Brooklyn in 2006 to 2008, titled with the names of the models, these sensitive portraits provide a welcome respite from the often-prevalent macho images in the media.
The “Wallflower II” series, photos of men— who the artist had not previously met before she worked with them—were shot in 2016 and 2017 in Georgia, in an area that Elkins says is known for its conservative religious views. These subjects are more guarded, self-conscious, and overtly aggressive. By installing “Wallflower I & II” together, the viewer is exposed to a range of emotions and even of lifestyles, as the second series depicts men with scruffy beards and tattoos.
The artist’s “Danseur” (2012) series of dancers, ages 12 and up at Copenhagen’s Danish Ballet School and Company, portrays boys and young men in traditional dance positions. The overall effect is again surprising as the photos are of young men who live and breathe dance.
Conversely, the “Elegant Violence” (2010) series of Ivy League rugby players are photographed immediately after intense physical practice in Princeton, N.J., New Haven, CT and New York City. Inspired by portraits of rugby players from the 1870s to 1930s, these pictures portray several young men in aggressive poses, with several of them, including Rick (Tight Head Prop Forward), Princeton, N.J., bruised and bloodied.
“Black is the Day, Black is the Night” (2009-16) veers wildly from the previous series, conceptually, poetically and abstractly. These images document the artist’s personal exploration of the life of men on death row and of those who are serving life sentences in prison without parole. Elkins explains, “Stripped of personal context and placed in solitary cells, I felt their sense of identity, memory and time couldn’t help but mutate.” To create this series, she photoshopped a variety of pictures, resulting in blurry, abstract portraits of prisoners, and out-of-focus landscapes, the latter representing inmates in solitary confinement who hardly ever see the outside world. While the images become metaphors for the prisoners’ lack of self-identity, her accompanying text has equal importance. The text for one picture reads: “A pen pal serving a life w/o the possibility of parole in a supermax prison (solitary) described being able to see the sky through a metal grated skylight in the small concrete exercise area he was permitted in alone for one hour a day. The additional 23 hours were spent in isolation.”
Moving further into the conceptual realm, Elkins created “The Golden State” this year. In this site-specific photomural, each of twelve large images is a composite of mugshots of several to many California death-row inmates. While the images are blurry and a bit surreal, more prevalent is the overwhelming racial identity of each picture, as 66.75 percent of California’s 746 death row inmates are minorities.
Elkins, who has exhibited her work nationally and internationally and won awards for her work, has taken an unusual approach to portraiture in this exhibition. It will be interesting to see how she evolves in her photographic artwork.
Amy Elkins: Photographs of Contemporary Masculinity,
Orange Coast College, Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion,
2701 Fairview Road, Costa Mesa, CA 92626,