Cass BirdHeather Kemesky (2016)

Usually I’m not into editorial or quote-unquote lifestyle work.

What tends to resonate is image makers who take what functions and discard the rest. (Here I’m thinking of Lina Scheynius with the way she appropriates the tropes and visual language of lifestyle only to filter them–incongruously–  through her distinct lo-fi aesthetic and diaristic tendencies.

Bird’s work is more of a hybrid between editorial and lifestyle. Were that all, then I would be less enamored with her work than I am.

Perhaps the best way to get at what I mean is to focus on the hybridization. Usually, editorial work is supplemental to text–it’s a form of illustration, in effect/a picturebook for adults. Whereas, lifestyle tends to be fixated on immediacy of experience, beautiful people in exotic locales appearing relaxed and happy.

From the former, Bird adopts an unusual concreteness. Her images always have a lucid and clearly legible tone. (Consider the above: there fading light and heavier hues, lend a melancholic feel that is subsequently amplified by the gravity of the pose–head down, the look at me I’m on my period implication, belied by the might as well be joyful grin.) The tone alone frequently contributes a strong narrative thrust to the images. In other words, these images are able to stand on their own independent of their intended context.

Whereas with the latter, there’s an immediacy of bearing witness. I’m struggling with how to articulate what I mean on this point but it’s something like the built in interest that comes with viewing images of people you know, say on Facebook, on vacation, hanging out, going to a show, etc. They don’t have to be good, for you to experience some slight vicarious rise in yourself.

Bird’s work has that sort of feeling to it, except the images aren’t just interesting for what they document, they are astute considered and technically accomplished.

Lastly, Bird is clearly a talented image maker. But I get the feeling she’s an even better editor. I had a really difficult time deciding which image of hers to feature. I ended up going with this one but I’m head over feet for this one. When editing there’s a tendency to focus on style to the diminution of substance, an impetus for excluding the imperfect in favor of the unimpeachable. So it’s nice to see an image maker who although she seems to have precocious luck at capturing that perfect moment in an exceedingly well-considered composition, will opt out of any sort of perfectionism in favor of an indelible moment.

Ashley ArmitageUntitled (2015)

There is a lot of work being made by twenty-something-ish women who draw heavily from their own experiences as women in this our fundamentally sexist culture.

I’m constantly amazed at how varied, creative and interesting the better part of it is. There’s Arvida Byström in general and her infamous VICE editorial There Will Be Blood, in particular; Prue Stent’s jaw dropping and frankly unrivaled surrealist meditations on femininity and visual representation also spring to mind.

With such work, you can’t swing a cat without hitting some codified notion of the work as a manifestation of the female gaze–the female gaze being a reaction/response/rejection of Berger’s art historical ‘male gaze’.

The first time I encountered the term it was in reference to the work of Masha Demianova. I flat out don’t think the term applies to her work in the slightest. It’s also used in reference to Petra Collins–personally, I wouldn’t deploy it in her case either; however, I am much less convinced I could argue away the assertion to the point of refuting it.

For me, if you want to talk about a female gaze, someone like Mercedes Esquivel is where you’ll find it.

That being said: I think there’s a way in which it is befitting Armitage’s work even claiming it as a primary impetus for the work is somewhat pretentious. I think there is a way in which her photos are a sort of exercise in photography as a means of curation–since their the prism of her images pervasive themes and motifs in someone like Collins work are zoomed in upon to a microscopic level and are then subsequently replicated.

I feel as if there is a great deal of overlap with someone like Jeff Wall, for example.