Women in Colour @Rubber Factory

Mariah Robertson, 108, 2015
Unique chemical treatment on RA-4 paper, 46 x 30 inches
Image courtesy RF

Currently on view until September 27th at Rubber Factor Women In Colour* is a group show that celebrates the history of color photography by women.  It presents a wide range of formal experimentations and conceptual explorations. Inspired by the British Victorian botanist and one of the first woman photographers Anna Atkins, the exhibition focuses on works by contemporary artists including Carri Mae Weems, Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons, Elinor Carucci, Mariah Robertson, Amanda Means, just to name a few.  

Anna Atkins (1843-53)
Photographs of British Algae / Part 5
Image courtesy NYPL Digital Gallery

Asking the question of "Where would color photography and women practitioners be without the work of Anna Atkins?," curator Ellen Carey begins her investigation with Atkins' camera-less cyanotype.  Although her work is not included in this show, the examination of Atkin's early experiments serve as a trajectory of discourse on the development of contemporary photographic works by women.

As a botanist Atkins produced the first work of photographic illustrations in 1843, Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions.  Influenced by the photo-drawing technique invented by her friend William Henry Fox Talbot, Atkins adopted the sun-printing process. From the invention of cyanotype by another friend Sir John Frederick William Herschel, Atkins used his scientific formula to illustrate her own findings in the study of botany.  To briefly explain, the process involves placing the object directly on paper treated with ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide.  After being exposed to sunlight, and washed in water, the uncovered area on the paper turns blue, the positive impression of the object emerges.  The same technique has been used for making engineering and architectural drawings centuries on.  

Elinor Carucci
Eye, 1996
Archival pigment print, 30x40 inches
Edition of 8
Image courtesy RF

Like Atkins' camera-less works in terms of methodology, Mariah Robertson is an artist that works with light and chemical to produce photographic images in absence of a camera. However the similarity ends here.  For Robertson does not control her images and the finished work is a result of accident and chance.  Her Unique Chemical Treatment on RA-4 Paper, 2015 presents a painterly and abstract composition.  The creasing and folding marks produce a sense of tension between color and form.  Like the ink blots from Rorschach cards, Robertson's color-composition dose not resolve itself, it retains a sense of openness.  
Laurie Simmons
How We See / Ajack (Violet), 2015
Archival pigment print, 71 x 48 inches
Edition 1/5, +2AP
Image courtesy RF

How We See / Ajak (Violet), 2015 by Laurie Simmons probes the question of truth and accuracy in a photographic image in the age of digital manipulation.  In the frame work of a conventional portraiture, the model's tilted posture and her eyes look surreal.  Against the violet background, she seems to be floating.  The most alluring element on her face, her eyes, but there seems something is awry. The way her eyes appear reminds one of a character in Le Sang d'un poète (1930s) by Jean Cocteau of which Lee Miller plays.  At a game of cards, when her character suddenly looks up, a pair of painted eyes over her closed eye lids takes the viewer by surprise. Unlike the surrealist play on the conscious and the subconscious, Simmons' photograph addresses a more contemporary phenomenon, the social media. This work alludes to the discrepancy between the presentation of the idealized self, and how the others might perceive the portrayed.  

Cindy Sherman
Untitled, 2010-12
Chromogenic color print, 34 3/4 x 24 inches
Edition of 8/10

Now, what do we have here, Cindy?  Another representation of the self or something else?   Known by her various "self-portraits," from her earliest film-stills which are in the collection of MoMA to her later explorations of identity in light of the social and the gender political. Cindy Sherman's clown series explores the complex emotional range of clowns that wear paint-on happy faces.  In Untitled, 2010-12, the sad and despondent expression in her eyes diminishes the comical effect of the bright-red painted smile. The colors seen in this work, neon rainbow of the background paired with her character in a lurid pink wig wearing a gaudy blue feather boa contradict the facial expression behind the make-up. This clown is at a loss of happiness, her ability to bringing forth jolliness is ambiguous.  

These are just some highlights of this group show-Women In Colour at Rubber Factory.  There are many more interesting works in the show that experiment with color and form that push further the limitation and expand the possibility of the photographic medium.

* According to the curatorial statement in RF's press release,"color" is spelled in this exhibition title as "colour" as a reference to color photography's origin in England.  


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