Maude Arsenault, Entangled

JTF (just the facts): Published by in 2019 by Deadbeat Club Press (here). Softcover, 118 pages, with 45 color and black and white photographs. In an edition of 500 copies. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Entangled is also available in a special edition (here). This version includes a book, signed and numbered, with archival pigment prints of photographs from the book, signed and numbered. All of this comes in a specially designed foil stamped slipcase. In an edition of 20 copies.

Comments/Context: The Canadian photographer Maude Arsenault worked and lived around the world, and made a successful career as a fashion photographer, before settling down in Montreal where she is now raising her three children. Today, her artistic practice is “particularly invested in the representation of women and girls in the context of domesticity and intimacy.” She notes that “after years dedicated to creating glorified images of women, I came to question my role and influence in the transmission of models of femininity.” She is particularly considering these questions as she raises her children, one of them a young woman. So Arsenault’s work is shaped by her career in fashion photography, but also by her experience as a woman and a mother.

Arsenault has just released her first photobook titled Entangled. It is a softcover book with a sugar peach cover, with a tipped in black and white image showing a white sheet hanging outside on a laundry line against a backdrop of trees. A thin line of cotton covers the spine, adding an elegant element to the book design. The photographs vary in size and placement, and always have white space around them. The only text included in the book is a handwritten quote from Virginia Woolf, “growing up is losing some illusions in order to acquire others.” 

How do we create feminine identity and connect with it? Arsenault wonders how the feminine gender, historically objectified, can be freed, both inside and outside. In her series, she presents women in the context of domesticity and intimacy. The visual narrative of Entangled consists of a flow of photographs depicting parts of the body, shots of nature, scenes from bedroom environments, and more abstract arrangements. 

The first spread pairs a small black and white image of a young woman in a swimming suit standing on a brick wall; she holds a Polaroid camera close to her face as she takes a photograph; she stands there, tall and confident, looking at the world through her camera. The photograph on the right shows us a pink beach house, with stairs ending in the sand, shot on a gloomy day, in a sense, setting a potential stage for the quiet moments that will follow.

A few spreads later, there is an image showing a young woman’s back; the line of her spine resonates with the edges of a jacket put on backwards, and also with the image on the right page, which captures a stream running down a rocky hill. The juxtaposition creates an intimate and even poetic formal comparison. There is also a playful sense of eroticism in these photographs.  

Arsenault’s photographs are often calm and refined, creating formal studies out of everyday household objects and arrangements. She uses muted colors and gentle light to build up intimacy and elegance in her images. A woman’s fingers gracefully touch the back of her bra, while a more abstract composition captures light falling on a white surface. In these images and others, she adds thoughtful layer of playfulness to the representation of femininity.

This is followed by a vertical black and white portrait of a young woman, her head resting on a wool blanket as she looks right back at us, and the environment of home adds comfort and coziness to the exchange. As we continue on, there are pictures of body hair, a pink bathroom door frame, rows of white chairs, linked fingers, curtains in the bedroom, rumpled bed sheets and underwear, and dappled shadows of tree branches falling on the wall, each an attentive study of shape, form, and cast light. One pairing matches a portrait of a girl on a bed wrapped in a duvet with a shot of a cover thrown on a meadow with yellow chamomiles, as if reminding us to be gentle.

One of the last photographs takes up a full spread – a woman floats on her back in the water, her arms and legs extended in peaceful and dreamy flop of individuality. It is followed by a vertical image of two older women walking on the beach during low tide, seen from the back. It is a gloomy day, but bright colors of their clothes stand out against muted tones of the sky, sand, and the ocean, the aging women still making their way forward together.

As a photobook, Entangled is refined, polished, and well produced, and its straightforward design and layout keep our focus on its measured visual flow. Arsenault offers intimate and graceful portraits and observations, placed in the context of sensitive arrangements of familiar environments, giving feminine identity a more relaxed and natural place to breathe. As a woman and a mother, she adds another considerate voice to the further exploration of female representation, her threads of domestic life interwoven into a mindful presence. 

Collector’s POV: Maude Arsenault does not appear to have consistent gallery representation at this time. As a result, interested collectors should likely connect directly with the artist via her website (linked in the sidebar).

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