Blurring the Boundaries

The unnervingly direct stare of Jessie Mann penetrates the viewer. Take a few minutes in Adamson Gallery at 14th and P, and see what I mean. Titled “Self Possessed,” it’s a small showing of twenty-seven prints, on display until February 24th.

The photographs are the result of a partnership between Jessie Mann (as model, though in some shots you see her with a shutter release) and Len Prince (as photographer). The Post review touched on the show’s teasing the boundaries between photographer and muse, creator and subject. Having posed for a photographer in my day, I understand how the partnership can be more complex than “hold your head like this; look over there and think of something sad.” It’s really a covenant you are entering into with another creative person – “I will convey your message, but you will immortalize my essence” – there has to be absolute trust to create something that indelible. It’s a powerful bond that’s very evident in this exhibit.

I love playing the “if I could pick one work to bring home, which would it be?” game with art exhibits. I was most struck by a photograph of Ms. Mann bathing in a rolling stream, reminiscent of the myth of Artemis. You feel a certain sense of voyeuristic danger. Runner-up was a much larger print of her caught in mid-stride towards the camera, in rugged farmer’s clothes, her intense stare hooded by the shadow of her hat. The captured movement of both really affected me in ways the other more static photographs didn’t (though I appreciated their style as well). Both blur the boundaries between viewer and subject, pulling you into the frame.

It also was interesting to see an exhibit entirely made up of silver gelatin prints – reminding one that even in the digital age a good photograph is not just about the image captured, it’s also about the photographer’s decision of how that image will be experienced by the viewer.

From model to photographer to viewer – eventually you are brought into their world and become part of their bond. That is the artist’s goal, after all.

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