Though Christa Blackwood’s show at Candela Gallery closed on the 18th, it was so striking it is burned into my memory.
Anyone who attended the opening of Blackwood’s show may still have one of the bright red circles the gallery handed out during the opening reception. However, a physical red circle is not needed to remember “a red dot,” a show characterized by a somewhat haunting, definitely stunning series of photographs.
Dramatic portraits and landscapes were featured in the show, each interrupted somewhere in the composition by a red dot. This enigmatic red dot roused my curiosity. Most of the writing I found about the red dot singles it out as a metaphor for feminine presence in a medium traditionally dominated by the male presence. A literal embodiment of “the male gaze.” However, when Blackwood describes it, the red dot takes on a much more dynamic importance.
“It’s referencing location, commodification, and how things are sold,” Blackwood said. “I think a lot about how we read images and how we’re taught to read images. How we’re taught to read language at school. Most of the time we’re looking at images; we’re looking at a computer, a TV, or a billboard. But we’re not really taught how to decipher those images, so they can be very manipulative.”
Though the red dot is perhaps the most initially striking part of the show, the portraits of the young men (entitled Boys of Collodion) and the desolate landscapes are equally impactful.
Describing her own work as “Conceptual image making using historical photographic processes,” Blackwood uses her work as a critique on traditional photography as a genre. She explores three major areas of photography: portrait, landscape, and still life.
Candela features the first of the two, and Blackwood’s series of still-life photographs are in the works now. These photographs are being shot on expired Polaroid film on a 4×5 camera, and will most likely show up within the next year to complete the trilogy.
With her portraiture and landscapes, Blackwood critiques and redefines the goals and outcomes of traditional photography while playing with concepts of gender identity. Her piece “Girl” perfectly showcases this reclassification.
In this piece, a female figure contained in a large red circle divided into nine segments is printed on a white piece of cloth. Commenting on the process of creating the piece, Blackwood said, “I was doing landscape pieces and trying to reclaim them or reshoot them as a woman.”
Her use of traditional photographic processes allows her to not only re-write a history exclusively populated by men photographing landscapes and female models, but also gives the artist a chance to indulge in a hands-on process. “You’re actually etching into the paper in those processes. You’re more mark-making. It’s more complex and not as flat as some digital prints,” said Blackwood.
Gender identity and equality has always been a significant part of Blackwood’s work and has taken many different forms throughout her career. The artist attended NYU where she began making posters and became involved in Women’s Action Coalition. She also protested outside of the Guggenheim with the Guerrilla Girls in opposition of the museum’s decision to only include four white male artists in the inaugural show.
During this period, Blackwood also began a stint with documentary photography. While protesting, Blackwood would photograph police to ensure those who were arrested were being treated fairly.
Her field experience with fighting for gender equality has now been translated into the portraits and landscape photographs that were showcased in Candela.
There is a certain amount of opposition to Blackwood’s work because it deals so openly with gender identity. “I think it’s rattled some people. It’s interesting it’s mainly men photographers who are probably around my age, 40s, who are bothered by it, especially the portraits of boys,” said Blackwood.
There were nine high-contrast, sepia-toned portraits of young men in Blackwood’s Candela show.
They stare confrontationally at the viewer with a bright red dot adorning each of their chests.
Blackwood suspects opposition from older, male photographers comes from the lack of history of seeing young men used as objects or subjects in art. In Blackwood’s eyes, they are startled by the implied comparison between themselves and the young men in their physical prime.
Blackwood said, “I think it’s because they feel insecure, because they’re not that ideal specimen. They’re not young anymore, they’re not what our culture thinks is ideal.”
Blackwood manages to breach the loaded, controversial topic of gender identity with a beauty and subtlety that makes her work one of a kind. Her work is a bold foray into modern gender politics while simultaneously acting as an intriguing investigation of photographic techniques.
Blackwoods work was featured locally at Candela Books from 9/5-10/18/14