Modern & Contemporary Art

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A series of photographs entitled Coupling

In a series of photographs entitled Coupling, Chicago-based and Canadian-born photographer Laura Letinsky explores the subject of romantic (heterosexual) love by documenting moments in the intimate lives of several couples. Letinsky has been visualizing love for the last seven years, and the nearly two dozen large colour photographs exhibited in Chicago are part of a larger series of photographs titled Venus Inferred. Precedent for such a project is not hard to find, as intimach between men and women is the favoured subject of countless authors, filmmakers, songwriters and visual artists. No wonder: making love visual and therefore visible appeals to every one of us who still holds out for the possiblity of our own version of an ideal love(r). Indeed, our belief in the existence of an ideal is often what drives us to try again after failure in love, to keep waiting, searching, hoping. Over time and with experience perhaps we learn to crave the ideal a little less, and settle into a more possible, if not compromised and more ordinary, version of love. It is the discrepancy between the socially sanctioned and highly mediated version of romantic love and what actually gets played out in relationships that fuels Letinsky’s work.

To capture scenes of intimacy between men and women, Letinsky enters the homes of friends, acquaintances and couples she finds through classified ads. She spends at least half a day with her subjects – young, attractive, mainly white and middle class couples – and with them, chooses an interior site to stage a moment or moments of physical (and emotional) intimacy. Most often the site is the bedroom, and here, among familiar objects like lamps, books, TVs, blankets and bureaus, lovers embrace, smoke, lie motionless and naked after sex or stand, half-dressed, staring head on at the camera. The interactive process between Letinsky and her subjects produces photographs that lie somewhere between the real and the staged, although more like cinema verite than Hollywood fiction. And, like cinema verite, her pictures show people more as they are (imperfections and all) than how they may want to appear. In fact, what is most compelling about each photograph is the willingness of the couples to participate in their own exposure.

Although some of the photo-tableaux resemble movie stills they escape the banality of staged romantic encounters because the subjects’ faces and bodies register a real vulnerability. This vulnerability is not only present in the more sexually explicit photos where the couples are in close contact and body parts are in full view, but in the photos depicting couples before and after sexual encounters when the subjects are physically, if not emotionally distant. In Untitled (Amber and Dawn – Bedroom), 1994, for example, the woman stands at the corner of the bed, one arm across her waist, clutching her short robe closed, the other arm reaching diagonally across her chest to grab a tuft of shoulder-length hair. She looks toward the camera and away from her lover, as if in defiance of the code of post-sex posturing for women. Meanwhile her lover stretches out on the bed like a seedy odalisque; he is fully robed and watching her, and he holds his burning cigarette erect to the ceiling. Between them is a gulf of space filled with a hulking air-conditioner; its ugly wires trace a path of electricity across the window sill. Dawn’s protective gesture and defiant stare implicate the viewer in the scene, and thus, challenge us to face our intrusion. More than that, however, her state foregrounds the voyeuristic nature of documentary photography by reminding the viewer of the photographer’s role in witnessing and directing this scene.

In the more formally structured composition, Untitled (Sarah & Jeff, Pieta), 1993-96, the woman in the couple also stares out at the camera. In this lush and almost surreal tableau, the pair sits in the center of a bed and the woman holds the man in an embrace that resembles Michelangelo’s Pieta. While her hand rubs Jeff’s exposed back, Sarah looks forward, wryly aware of the staged quality of this scene. The busy flower-pattern wallpaper, purple afghan and small brass reading lamp beside the bed lend an air of mundane and comfortable domesticity to this otherwise formal and iconic representation of intimacy.

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Published by Delores Jackson, on December 24th, 2019 at 4:27 pm. Filled under: UncategorizedNo Comments

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