Judy Dater (U.S.A. 1941) Untitled (Self-Portrait with Sparkler) 1981, Gelatin silver print, 15 × 19 in.

Dater’s Self Portrait with Snake Petroglyph is the first of her photographs I encountered.

I love it. (So much in fact, that I riffed off of when I made this photograph.)

Shortly after, I tuned into Imogen and Twinka at Yosemite and it’s narrative bent couldn’t be more relevant to my own photographic preoccupations.

The above is a more resolute photo, more symbolically charged.

Victoria Gannon’s commentary Judy Dater: On Vaginas and Earthworks is a addresses the broad strokes reasonably well: the Freudian notion that vaginas are voids needing to be filled, how the sparkler Dater is holding behind her back and between her legs serves as the focal point of the photo, the work’s position within a historical context of Second Wave Feminism.

Such points are clearly valid–although I bristle a bit at the notion that Carolee Schneermann’s Interior Scroll was anything less than proto-Third Wave. 

Yet, I think in Gannon’s effort to associate the Dater with feminism, there’s an overlooking of the radical ambiguity of this image. To her credit, she does note that the space behind Dater isn’t land, it’s an expanse of water–something I completely missed.

The light is also between day and night–whether it’s dawn or dusk, remains uncertain. (Although my gut says dusk.)

Further, Dater is standing behind a steam vent or fumarole. I have no idea if it was intentional, but I was almost certain it was a geyser.

Part of my reason for thinking that is a result of visiting iGeysir in Iceland–the site from which the word originates. (Spoiler alert: it’s a tourist trap par excellence.)

The thing that visiting there made me realize is it’s not just porn where folks fixate on ejaculatory spectatorship–when Geysir spews, everyone stops and watches with rapt awe.

I have no idea if Dater meant for the viewer to think of a geyser. But the way she’s standing, defiant–with the light dying out in the sky–with fire symbolically emanating from between her thighs, there seems to be something radically talismanic about her formulation with regards to this image, a reformulation where femininity is the site of an equal but opposite force of nature. Something perhaps less historically observed, but as this photo asserts, it’s high fucking time that prejudice was upset.

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