Exhibition Review: Sage Sohier - Witness to Beauty
By Frances Molina
On Wednesday night the Foley Gallery debuted Sage Sohier’s Witness to Beauty. The series, featuring more than twenty large-scale photographs, centers on Sohier’s agonizingly elegant mother Wendy Morgan. For a brief moment in the 40s, Morgan was a successful fashion model, immortalized by Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, and Horst on the pages of Life and Look. Decades later, at 89, she continues to command attention and allure, capturing an audience with her piercing feline eyes.
Many of Sohier’s photographs have all the makings of the commercial stills Morgan posed for in her youth, from the incredible lighting to the manicured set design in every shot. Morgan – always with her lipstick on, her chestnut hair perfectly coiffed – appears perfectly at home amidst all the glamor, accustomed to her plush country home in Washington D.C. In one of the most iconic shots, Morgan sits in a cedar enzyme bath, submerged up to her neck in muddy fermentation, her makeup perfectly applied; the dark massive stone of her wedding ring peaks out from beneath the muck, glinting like an eye.
But Sohier's photographs look past the glamor to reveal a strikingly sentimental relationship between mother and daughter, a bond that continues to blossom with time. “As a child I grew up as a witness to her beauty,” Sohier explains, “As I grew older there was no use competing with her and so I assumed my position, quite happily, on the other side of the camera”. The tension in this relationship she refers to is visible in Sohier’s series; what’s more, perhaps unintentionally, the photographs of her mother also serve as self-portraits.
In a few of the shots, the artist joins her subject in front of the camera. Sohier, who appears plain and almost frumpy sitting beside an icon of immaculate femininity, stares deeply into the camera as her mother fusses over her appearance, tucking back her hair or adjusting her makeup; Sohier’s expression is a hysterical combination of disbelief and exasperation. In these almost candid moments, the viewer understands what a struggle it must have been, growing up in the shadow of a woman like Morgan. But Sohier’s photographs avoid any needless self-pity or dramatics, opting instead for admiration and love for her mother. For example, the artist concluded the series Witness to Beauty at Morgan’s request, who disclosed to her daughter that she no longer believed she looked good in her photographs. “At that point,” Sohier says, “I just needed to be a good daughter.”
Sage Sohier’s photographs will be on view at the Foley Gallery from now until January 7th, 2018.
Courtesy of the artist and the Foley Gallery.
All images © Sage Sohier