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Musée: Exhibition Review: Women Seeing Women at Staley-Wise Gallery

From June 20th through August 31st the Staley-Wise Gallery in SoHo will be featuring the exhibition Women Seeing Women, in which the work of women Magnum photographers will be contrasted with that of women photographers in editorial and advertisement fields. 

Magnum is a prestigious international photography cooperative that has managed many of the industry’s most prominent photographers since the mid-twentieth century. Although its members present an eclectic mix of styles and themes, they share a focus on narrative and documentation of the real. In spite of the fact that Magnum members have experimented with commercial photography in the past, the contrast between Magnum, which considers itself artistic and documentarian, and the commercial and fashion photographers exhibited alongside them, is a notable curatorial choice. These photos depict diverse women in a variety of photographic styles, yet all of these myriad images converge in their subjects’ staged display of femininity.

These displays take the form of costume, as is the case in Inge Morath’s image of veiled Iranian women teetering through the rain (Veiled women and girls struggling through heavy rain, 1956), Cristina Garcia Rodero’s image of a woman peeling a curtain back to display her body enclosed in white wedding garb (La Boda de Loli, 1991), and Genevieve Naylor’s image of a model in dynamic contrapposto, whose twirling skirt appears as if it is an expressive extension of her body (Woman in Checked Skirt, circa 1945). 

These displays take the form of expression, as in Diana Markosian’s Hanan Saeed Abdo (2017), in which a woman leans her head on a poolside rim, her eyes projecting the glassy distance of corporate ads, in Sheila Metzner’s The Passion of Rome (1986), in which a woman’s leaning parted lips and just closed eyes articulate the idealized display of submissive womanly desire, and in Sheva Fruitman’s image of a cropped smile, of red lips barred in a disconcerting expression of friendly fear (Nice Smile, 2016). These displays also take the form of posture, as is the case in Deborah Turbeville’s Bath House (1975), among many others, and of gesture, as is the case in Ellen von Unwerth’s image of Sophia Loren, her plastered expression of visual welcome barred and contradicted by the fingers of her outstretched hand (Sophia Loren, 1996) Even Isabella Ginanneschi’s images of hands (Sita 2 & Sita Double 2, 2000) are performative: they warp in an unnatural display of womanly grace. 

Women Seeing Women celebrates many of the most distinguished woman photographers from the second half of the twentieth century, and in doing so it demonstrates the universal performative nature of femininity. Whether commercial or candid, documentarian or devised, this performance is unleashed by the camera’s lens. Staley-Wise Gallery's curators have intelligently emphasized this trend in their current exhibition. 

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