JTF (just the facts): A total of 19 large scale color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the single room main gallery space. All of the works are archival pigment prints, made in 2015. The prints are shown in two sizes: 28×42, in editions of 3, and 20×30, in editions of 12. There are 3 large prints and 16 small prints on view. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: Buffeted on all sides by conceptualism, deadpan aesthetics, process centrism, neo-formalism, and abstraction, old school photographic storytelling has been increasingly marginalized in recent years. We’re just not seeing as much work being made where expansive storytelling is placed front and center. And even when narrative is still being explored by contemporary photographers, it is often done in the context of actively upending the usual conventions, employing nonlinear, indirect, and associative techniques instead of step-by step anecdotal progression. Sadly, the spinning of a rollicking visual yarn seems to have puzzlingly fallen out of favor.
One corrective to this apparent erosion of storytelling has been the subgenre of staged, cinematic melodrama, the kind made modern by Gregory Crewdson almost two decades ago now, and more recently embraced by Alex Prager, Julia Fullerton-Batten, and Holly Andres, among a handful of others. In the work of these photographers, single frame stories and multi-image sequences mix the commonplace and the surreal, adding layers of noir mystery and psychological weight to fictional characters and their theatrical stories.
Holly Andres’ new body of imagery The Fallen Fawn is unabashedly organized like a short story or fable, each individual picture serving as a supporting piece of the larger story arc. It uses a mystery woman and her suitcase as the backdrop for the story of two middle school-aged sisters who find the suitcase down by the river, unpack its contents, and revel in its associations. In the privacy of their shared bedroom, the girls try on the woman’s robes and lingerie, wear her red lipstick, and playact out their visions of her life. It’s a tale full of resonances – adolescence, female roles, and sisterly connection, mixed with secrets, risks, and rebellions against the boredom of small town life. After shared looks across the dinner table, the girls eventually pack up the suitcase, sneak out after dark, and toss it in the river, a lone lipstick left on the dresser as a keepsake of the tingling excitement found within.
The careful setting of atmosphere and the attention to detail are what make Andres’ photographs work so successfully. Captured in lush saturated color, the staged scenes are honed to sharpness. Starting with the proverbial deer in the headlights, each successive image in the series either adds background to the mystery or moves the story forward. We see the curl of smoke in the front seat of the car and the bright red fingernails, and then later a single shoe floating in the water – did the mystery woman drown, get killed, commit suicide, or just run off? We see the girls find the suitcase, hide it under their bed, and then furtively play dress up with the clothes and jewelry, with a pink piggy bank and the book “A Little Miss Nobody” arranged neatly on the bureau. The dinner scene is pregnant with stifled emotion – the steak on the plate, the whispered prayers, the looks exchanged across the table while Mom and Dad have their eyes closed. Each moment has been orchestrated to deliver both plot and psychology, each picture optimized for maximum effect without going too far and becoming camp.
Contemporary photography will become airless if we consciously dismiss the power of sophisticated image-driven storytelling, in both the real and unreal traditions. Andres’ small fable is well-executed, adding a nuanced emotional landscape to a simple discovery anecdote. Dry conceptual still lifes will never give us the kind of claustrophobia, subtle fear, pulse-increasing anxiety, energetic hope, or poignant been-there nostalgia that stories like this one can induce. We need to make more room at the contemporary photography table for risk-taking storytellers, as cleverly obtuse found objects will rarely tell us as much about ourselves as a fairy tale will.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The 20×30 prints are $1800 each while the 28×42 prints are $4000 each. Andres’ work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.