JTF (just the facts): A total of 7 color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the small, single room gallery space. All of the works are chromogenic prints, made between 2006 and 2008. Physical dimensions range from 20×25 to 38×30 (or reverse), in editions of 5+2AP. A monograph of this body of work was published by Fw: Photography (here) in 2012. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: The photographs from Cara Phillips’ Singular Beauty series use a simple layer of conceptual misdirection to deliver an incisive message about cosmetic surgery and body image. Instead of taking pictures of the people who have chosen to remake their physical appearance and their associated nose jobs, tummy tucks, and breast enlargements, Phillips has pointed her camera at the antiseptic spaces where the modification work actually gets done. From consultation offices and operating rooms to the medical machinery that is employed, her deadpan images are stark and haunting, exposing the hidden underbelly of the aspirational journey to be beautiful.
When seen in such austere clinical settings, there is something altogether unsettling about these still life medical instruments and technologies. Set in spotlit cones of gloomy light, liposuction pumps (with your choice of 2 or 6 plastic collecting bins) and anasthesia machines (with a surprising number of plugs to the ceiling) stand like sculptural objects, their function and operation not entirely understood or visible. A tray of squishy silicone implants is flanked by a sketchpad of boob notes, the exact in-between process left undocumented. Most importantly, fluorescent white environments and pristinely futuristic rooms obscure the bodily messiness of these surgeries; skin, fat, and blood are kept out of sight, and the before and after room stands ready to document your new perfection.
Phillips’ images leave us with the not-so-pleasant task of reconciling the desired outcome and the underlying process. The frankness of the photographs is something akin to the bursting of a bubble; after seeing these pictures, we are no longer able to wave our hands about how it all happens. They force us to see the dichotomy of natural and unnatural with open eyes, and ask ourselves why we think it’s all worth enduring.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The 20×25 prints are $1800, while the 38×30 prints are $2500. Since this is Phillips’ first solo show in New York, it is not surprising that her work has little secondary market history; as such, gallery retail will be the best option for those collectors interested in following up.