JTF (just the facts): A total of 15 black and white photographs, framed in silver and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the single room gallery space. All of the works are archival pigment prints, made in 2017-2018. Physical sizes range from roughly 12×9 to 33×26 inches and all of the prints are available in editions of 5. (Installation shots below.)
A monograph of this body of work was published in 2018 by Kominek Books (here). Hardcover, 100 pages (unpaginated), with 9 color and 22 black and white photographs. Aside from a list of first names (which represents the models with whom the artist collaborated), there are no texts or essays included. In an edition of 500 copies. Design by Florence Meunier.
Comments/Context: As more and more emerging photographers are using photobooks as a way to get their work out to wider audiences, it is becoming more common that photographers we initially discover and “meet” via photobooks ultimately circle back and present that same work in a gallery setting. Given our familiarity with the work in one form, it’s intriguing to consider how we might respond differently when the context changes and we are faced with the physicality of framed prints on white walls.
When Senta Simond’s Rayon Vert washed through the photobook community in 2018, it felt like a particularly timely re-establishment of the parameters of the female gaze. When I first wrote about the work (the original review is here), I was most struck by the combination of connections backward to the formal clarity and surreal twinges of avant-garde Modernism and the freshness of Simond’s contemporary vantage point – the work felt alive and of the moment, which is particularly hard inside the genre of the female nude, while still being aware of its past.
Simond’s approach to presenting the work in print form noticeably tightens the edit, removing some of the looseness found in the photobook and opting for more clarity. There are less smiling faces and generally less nudity, and none of the color works have been included, so the effect is slightly more abstract and restrained. The open gallery space offers Simond more flexibility in terms of scale, and she responds by showing prints in a variety of sizes. Intimate, up close faces are generally shown small (although there are exceptions), while more complex, layered compositions are shown bigger, that expansiveness giving them additional presence and heft. Simond also plays with the unmatted print borders, some cropped right to the image, while others have a strip of white around the sides, creating more depth and edge contrast.
As installed here, Simond’s work is gently rhythmic, forcing the viewer to move in and out to adjust to the scale of the prints. At a distance, her compositions that play with interruption register best, their foreground arms and legs veiling and jostling with the faces in the background. Laurence and Soumeya are essentially seen from underneath, the unexpected upward angle adding to our sense of disorientation, while Anais and Jenna are set back from the geometries made by their arms and legs.
Simond’s embrace of slightly surreal aesthetics is often rooted in attention to texture. Emely’s severe bob haircut and Slinky earrings and Roxanne’s looming hand shadow provide obvious surreal reference points, but the throwback doesn’t feel forced or unnatural. In other works, Karen’s slippery leather skirt and knees together pose creates a mermaid echo, and Tamara’s progression of tousled hair, fuzzy sweater, and downy skin seems to chop her into tactile thirds, Simond’s control of tonalities and surfaces giving the pictures their vitality.
Many of the rest of the images are faces, always seen obliquely or turned, making our engagement with them indirect. These photographs are Simond’s most gentle and seemingly introspective, their surfaces and contours made soft and serene, even when the brightness of the light seems to merit a squint. Foreheads anchor most of the compositions, with hairlines and the drapery of clothing providing offsetting textural interest. A hand touching Julie’s head feels tranquil and tender, Marie’s raised arms create a protective cocoon around her, and Sunna’s slight turn exudes warmth and restfulness, each picture both a trusting personal portrait and a more universal moment of closeness and familiarity.
Many, many younger photographers make portraits of their friends and other young models, but very few of the resulting images have as much consistent engaging intelligence as Simond’s. Her works are infused with a subtle choreography that feels simultaneously confident and vulnerable, giving the photographs an openness and honesty that cuts against the prevailing tide of posing, prettifying, and mannered Instagram-ready identity management. Simond’s approach signals a more active female-driven movement toward making empowering reality-infused nudes rather than objectifying ones, breathing new life into a genre in need of updating and transformation.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced between $2750 and $8000, based on size. Simond’s work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.