Talia Chetrit, Showcaller

JTF (just the facts): Published by MACK Books (here) in January 2019. Softcover with flaps, 138 pages, with 80 color and black and white photographs. Includes texts by Sahra Motalebi, Ruba Katrib, and Moritz Wesseler. Edit, concept, and design by Talia Chetrit. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Talia Chetrit started taking photographs at the age of thirteen, in the mid-1990s, turning the camera on herself and subjects immediately available to her, like her friends and family members. Chetrit’s photographs have often focused on the human body, starting with her own, yet her practice is wider than simply portraiture, as she continues to explore the medium of photography. Much of her work fearlessly embraces the freedom of female sexuality, ultimately shifting the power dynamics of perception in the depiction of bodies.

Chetrit’s first photobook Showcaller includes photographs drawn from more than two decades of artistic work, covering a number of separate projects and series. The retrospective sampler (made on the occasion of an exhibit at the Kölnischer Kunstverein in early 2018) documents Chetrit’s evolving relationship with the human form in a playful, sometimes blatantly honest way, comfortably mixing private and public.

The title of the book refers to themes of control and performance, and the theatrical nature of Chetrit’s work. A grainy photo of a nude woman (the artist) with pantyhose pulled over her face confidently looking straight into the camera appears on the cover. As we open the book, there is a smaller tightly-framed portrait of Chetrit in exaggeratedly bright makeup. Her boldly confident gaze and sense of being in control in both shots set the atmosphere for the upcoming visual narrative.

The photographs in the book are mixed between time periods and series, and include portraits of her parents and teenage friends, fashion shots, street photography, still lives, sex scenes, and even staged murder stills. A few spreads into the book, there is a photograph of a young girl: she is laying down on carpeted stairs with her left leg straight against the stair rail and the other one crossed over; she wears light blue fishnet stockings and her dress is slightly up revealing pink underwear. She casually, but seemingly knowingly, looks back at us. The scene feels so unnatural (and subtly provocative) that it is obvious that the artist wants us to be aware of its staged nature – this kind of sexualized pose isn’t usually the way young girls pose. Performative elements like this one serve as a common denominator across much of Chetrit’s work.

For Chetrit, photography is often a tool to observe and study herself. Her self-portraits have increasingly included mirrors and reflective surfaces, bringing to mind the work of Janice Guy, and her frank investigation of sexuality connects her back to many of the early feminist photographers of the 1960s and 1970s. In one image, we see her naked in a transparent plastic jumpsuit (both clothed and not), sitting legs spread next to a piano, with sunlight falling over her body as she points the camera at the mirror. She is both overtly looking and offering herself, a performative act in front of the camera where she is both the photographer and the subject.

Her photographs often expose the most intimate parts of her body, in ways that feel like seductive role playing or genre busting. In one photograph, she is in a black top with holes cut out to expose her breasts and her legs are open as she wears no underwear. The black and white photo on the next spread depicts a black bike seat leaned against the white wall, creating an obvious erotic juxtaposition. In other pictures, she wears jeans reduced to seams and hems, wraps her naked body in plastic wrap or metal chains, or interrupts suggestive views of her crotch with a glass vase or the shutter release of her camera. In each case, she is deliberately keeping us off balance and asserting her own authority to control the exchange. 

Chetrit often incorporates the camera trigger and the tripod in her images, highlighting the staged environment of the photographs. In the recent photographs Untitled (Outdoor Sex #1 and #2), she and her boyfriend have sex in a sunny meadow, the long wire of the release and the leg of the tripod breaking up the idyllic naturist scene. It’s clear that she’s continuing to push herself into more challenging and less comfortable personal spaces, testing the limits of watching and being watched.

A set of photographs in the center of the book come from the series I’m Selecting, and were taken on the streets of New York City. They are printed on a slightly creamier paper which makes them stand apart from the flow of the rest of the monograph. The tight images, all of the same size, depict busy crowds and dynamic street life, with repeated echoes of the angles and Vs of the walking legs of pedestrians. A subtle reflection of the artist, nude from the waist down, appears in one of the shots, superimposing her body on the throngs below.

As a photobook, Showcaller is elegant and simple; its straightforward design and layout keep our focus on the photographs and their exciting and often unexpected provocations. Chetrit offers expressive visual portraits, sharing her self-analysis and vulnerability with the viewer, and also asserting her right to make herself seen. She represents an important voice in a generation of female photographers who are fiercely exploring and reclaiming the female body, her carnally immodest images bringing the importance of the female gaze, the politics of looking, and the power of intimacy back into the conversation.

Collector’s POV: Talia Chetrit is represented by Sies + Höke Gallery in Düsseldorf (here). Her work has not yet found its way to the secondary markets, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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