JTF (just the facts): A total of 19 large scale color photographs, framed in black and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the entry area and the two main gallery rooms. All of the works are pigment prints, made between 1998 and 2014. Physical sizes range from 28×20 to 81×31, and the prints are available in editions of 6, 8, or 10. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: One of the unexpected byproducts of the recent photobook explosion is that many collectors are now getting their first introduction to new photographers through photobooks, and then “meeting” those same artists again in gallery shows several years down the line. This two-step dance almost always tests our sense of scale and context; the book form is hold-in-your-hands-intimate, while a gallery show generally fills space, allowing the images room to breathe and have a physical presence. The transition from one “venue” to the other isn’t always easy, and some bodies of work fare much better in one form than in another.
I actually wrote about Carla van de Puttelaar’s self-published book The Beholder’s Eye back in 2009 (my original review, which holds up decently well I think, is here) and since this is the photographer’s first show with Danziger, the exhibit offers an introduction to her work that mimics much of what is found in that book. Seeing her work here reinforces much of what I thought the first time – her eye for the female nude is durably original, her control of pure light creating a kind of quiet, tactile luminosity that feels entirely natural and unadorned.
The main difference between experiencing van de Puttelaar’s work in person versus in book form is the vast change in physical scale – her prints are big, a few nearly full body life sized. We’re now interacting with these women on a nearly one-to-one basis, and at least for me, that size made their vulnerability all the more prominent. The curve of a hip, the dangle of an arm, a modest gesture of covering up, they all feel even more personal at such a large size, their lines and forms less abstract and more real.
The other revelation that comes with the increased scale is the astonishing quality of the skin in her photographs. In book form, a bruise, a freckle, a mole, or some goose bumps were visible details; in these larger prints, they are an entire geography of nuances and subtleties. They invite close engagement, where the tiny sawtooth indentation of a waistband emerges and grounds us in something genuine; these aren’t smooth alabaster statues to be admired from afar, but actual people with “imperfections” that make them unique and all the more entrancing. I think my new impression of these images is that they are less about form than I remembered; of course, they are carefully controlled and arranged, the black backdrop accenting the lines of the bodies, but their real power comes from the derived personalities of her sitters as embodied by the pale skin dotted with red freckles, the knees, the recumbent hair, and the fingers. It’s the down-to-earth glow that matters.
In a world of contemporary photography dominated by deadpan and understated irony, an unabashed interest in beauty is an unexpected path for an artist to take; we’ve become hardened against the overtly lush, the feminine, and the delicate, congratulating them with backhanded compliments that are more like veiled slights. In this way, van de Puttelaar’s images are perhaps more radical than we might think – she’s taking a contrarian stand in favor of the radiant beauty in each of us (the females at least), when she knows that some (especially the men) will discount and misunderstand her intentions. Maybe it’s that understated confidence that is really what’s interesting here, the idea that the female nude is not remotely “done” and that it’s time for a new generation of female photographers to step up, reclaim that territory, and reinvent it once again.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced between $4500 and $18000, based on size. Only a few of van de Puttelaar’s prints have reached the secondary markets, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.