Last Thursday I headed out to Chelsea to attend the opening reception of “31 Women in Art Photography” at Hasted-Kraeutler . The show, co-curated by Natalia Sacasa and Jon Feinstein, contained one photo from each woman photographer. Started in 2008, 31 Women has evolved to become a “celebration of female art,” according to Feinstein. He is a bespectacled man with curly hair, dressed like an English professor. “In the art photography world,” he explained, “there is a huge discrepancy between the overwhelming number of women who obtain MFA's and the smaller ratio of women who are represented professionally.” The beautiful range of pieces from this show were testament to the power of women to break into a male-dominated world.
The gallery space at Hasted-Kraeutler is an angular path twisting back and forth – with generous room for each piece to breathe. But the space crowded quickly – the artists cried out to greet their friends, exchange kisses and guide them to their respective photos. One piece I lingered at was a simple scene with two figures, arresting in its ambiguity. What were the odd, diaphanous black objects? Were they falling up or falling down? I asked these questions to a young hipster on my right.
“Maybe the blackness is death descending on the two people,” he mused as he sipped his Pabst Blue Ribbon, “I love the simplicity of this scene; it could be anywhere or anything.” The photographer, Haley Bueschlen, appeared – she wore a loose white shirt and careful black rectangles of eyeliner just under her lower eyelashes.
“It's not exactly falling up or down,” Bueschlen explained – it's more of an explosion.”
She was tentative about dictating too much on how to interpret her work, she revealed that the girl in the photo was herself – and the man was her banker.
“You'd be surprised how powerful the light from a Macbook screen is,” Herman said with a smile. Her photos are thought-provoking– there is the intimacy of the blogger alone with her laptop like a “tunnel connecting her to the world,” but then there is the third gaze of the camera lens observing this moment of simultaneously private and public moment. It seemed an apt parallel of the venue itself – in their curatorial decisions, Feinstein and Sacasa embraced the influence of the Internet on contemporary photographers. “We decided to include some work that treads on styles less expected of us, like Jan Meisner's street photography which we think is breaking new and unexpected ground in the genre,” said Feinstein and Sacasa via email.
Later the crowd thickened even more, filling with an assortment of tie-dyed youth and men with elaborate hair-dos. I left the gallery to take a breather on the High Line. One of the photographers, Aneta Bartos, emailed me after the event:
“did you make it to the opening? it was so crowded, i ended up not seeing half of my friends…”
Her photo from the exhibit was a dark, painterly portrait of a young woman, with a soft expression on her face, wet lips slightly parted. The image is a Polaroid, from film discontinued in 2008. “I shot my first 4'x5' Polaroid film in late 2006 and instantly fell in love,” said Bartos via email. “I felt the dreamy and unpredictable quality of the Polaroid fit the quality of the world I was trying to create, a ... perfect mixture of beauty, eros and fear.” It looked oddly incongruous to have such an intimate portrait in a public place, strangers chatting and her image in the background.
Although Feinstein and Sacasa assert that there was no single theme, I noticed a nod, subconscious or not, in all these pieces to the public and private worlds – a divide traditionally associated with the hierarchy of man over woman. I'm looking forward to future exhibits of 31 Women, and to seeing how the tension around this divide evolves.