Thursday, January 17, 2008
Katy Grannan, Nicole, Potrero Hill, 2006
Katy Grannan’s most evident talent is for inspiring trust in subjects already eager to shed not only their clothes but whatever vestiges of dignity might remain to them. The resulting photographs have not been very good. Her latest effort is The Westerns.
In this new show, Grannan gives us pictures of Gail and Dale, transsexual best friends, and Nicole, a woman struggling with demons whose exact nature is left to our imagination. There are also a couple of pictures of men, equally troubled, whom Grannan apparently stumbled across on the beach.
Why The Westerns? The artist, we are told, considers these people to be “new pioneers” struggling “to define themselves under the scrutiny of relentless sunlight” in San Francisco, “a mythical destination and a real end-point where sunshine illuminates both the abject and the joyful.” I’d concede the aptness of "relentless" and “abject,” but there is no joy in any of these pictures.
Diane Arbus, Albino Sword Swallower at a Carnival, 1970
Instead, there is only Grannan’s exploitation of her subjects’ unhappiness and confusion. The degree of that exploitation is best illustrated by reference to another woman who photographed outsiders and was accused, in her day, of exploiting them. In fact, Diane Arbus’s freaks are paragons of dignity in comparison. Some of them are even joyful.
Katy Grannan, Gail, Point Lobos, 2006
The illuminating comparison is not with Arbus, with whom Grannan actually has little in common, but with the painter Andrew Wyeth, whose sticky taste for bathos is echoed by Grannan even in the peculiar pose she so often selects for her subjects. As far as I’m concerned, one Christina’s World is enough. More than enough, really.
Andrew Wyeth, Christina's World, 1948
(At Fraenkel, until February 9; also at Greenberg Van Doren and Salon 94 in NYC.)