Lindsay Morris, You Are You @ClampArt

JTF (just the facts): A total of 22 color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the entry area, the back hallway, and the single room main gallery space. All of the works are archival pigment prints, made between 2010 and 2014. 20 of the prints are sized 13×19 (or reverse), with the other prints at 20×30 and 40×40 respectively; all of the images are available in editions of 10. A monograph of this body of work was recently published by Kehrer Verlag (here). (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: If you walk around Lindsay Morris’ show and you don’t happen to know the backstory, it would be easy to conclude that her pictures are simply easy going summer pleasures. They’re images from camp – girls on forest hikes, walking through meadows of wildflowers, scrambling on a climbing wall, and getting dressed up for improvised fashion shows – and they’re full of the held hands and supportive groups we have come to expect from such youthful bonding experiences. I imagine that many of the people that visit this show will breeze in and out and never realize that something else is actually going on, because the nuances are so subtle.

The reality of Morris’ photographs is that nearly all of the girls in her pictures are actually boys (at least anatomically), and the camp is a special place where kids with “nonconforming gender identity” can gather and be free of the criticisms and discrimination they might normally experience. While same-sex marriage now has the approval of the nation, being a teen or tween and realizing you might be in the wrong body is likely still a source of plenty of personal uncertainty and social anxiety. So this annual camp is a kind of safe haven, where the children and their families can relax and feel empowered to be who they are (and thus the title, You Are You).

While photography of cross dressing has often been centered on the eye-catching flamboyance of drag queens, it’s altogether unexpected (but not surprising when we think about it) to see it trickle down to the sparkly butterfly wings and pink Disney princess set – and when it’s show time, we get a parade of strapless gowns, flowy pink summer dresses, and even a Princess Merida from Brave in a wigged shock of red hair, indeed all the little girl clichés we can come up with. With lipstick, hairspray, just the right shoes, and a ‘ta-da’ sweep of the arms, there is undeniable effervescent joy in the air.

But Morris’ images of the quieter moments of camp are actually more resonant. Here the girls gather in pairs or in clusters, talking, goofing around, and hanging out, their male features or huskier bodies subtly poking out from under their long hair and feminine clothes if we look closely. While many faces express the loose acceptance of the place, others hold a shadow of wariness. Is the person behind the camera (or who will see the pictures) judging me? Or making fun of me? There is a hint of distance in their eyes, their guard up for just a moment. But then that fear fades, and it’s back to sandals on the deck, short shorts in the sand, and the companionship of friends.

That Morris gained the trust of these kids and their families says volumes about her approach to the subject, and her supportive empathy comes through in pictures that feel casual and welcoming. Aside from the occasional handy visual metaphor of upside down or multiple overlapped faces, Morris doesn’t impose her own narrative on this situation. For these few kids, there is precious, elusive magic in these fleeting moments, and Morris captures its natural glow with upbeat familiarity.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The 13×19 prints are $1500 each, the 20×30 print is $2300, and the 40×40 print is $3200. Morris’ work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

Read more about: Lindsay Morris, ClampArt, Kehrer Verlag

One comment

  1. Pete /

    After expressing some reservations about the last review (Mariken Wessels), nothing but postivity from me this time, perhaps as it is an issue close to my heart/practice. Really pleased to hear about this show.

    I know Richard recently questioned the prevalence of ‘identity issue’ photography but I think a lot of the time the work actually stands up in its own right, be it, as on this occasion, when it’s super positive, but also when it’s cruel and mean, as per Katy Grannan’s projects.

    Thanks.

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