Book Review: In My Room
By Brigid Kapuvari
When in public, we broadcast ourselves to the world, permitting complete strangers to scrutinize us. Nonetheless, though we put ourselves on display, we don’t reveal our honest self. Instead, we dress ourselves up to give off a certain persona or character. In other words, we do not exhibit who we are wholly at our core. We offer a select piece of ourselves because, more often than not, our genuine self is not entirely suitable for an audience.
What the book “In My Room,” published by Steidl, strives to do is strip us of those superficial layers in order to uncover the nitty-gritty, raw, unadulterated version of ourselves. At home, in our own personal domain, we dare to be vulnerable and to expose our barest parts. The photographer, Saul Leiter, who focused on the perception of people or things in his artwork, sought to show a deeply personal side of women, free from pressures. Alone and stark naked, women can finally abandon the façade of respectability and simply be.
Throughout “In My Room,” Leiter strives to demonstrate just how gorgeously unconcerned and liberated woman are behind closed doors. There is a myriad of images in which they are utterly in the nude, embracing their womanhood in a manner that indicates they are not only calm but also basking in ecstasy. There is a photograph where a woman is sprawling out on her bed, both of her arms resting beside her head and her breasts open to the elements. Her eyes are closed as she languidly bends her left leg, serene and adoring the solitude.
Moreover, there’s a picture where a women is perched low in a chair, bare-chested and smoking a cigarette, one of her eyebrows is raised as she stares coolly into the camera. These actions are a clear choice by the model and Leiter to signal to the viewer that she does not feel threatened or insecure. She is completely comfortable in her space and gives the impression that nothing can ruin that for her. Separated from the critical public gaze, these females do not have a care in the world. No fuss, no conflict, just peace.
Still, amid the major depiction of relaxed women, there are several photographs interwoven in the narrative that insinuate others are more fragile, lacking a thicker skin to bear hardships. They are notably exhausted and less confident in their stance. One lady, undressed, is curled up on her mattress, wiping at something near her eye. Her overall posture suggests that she is uncertain, for her back is hunched and she seems to be drawing in her limbs, making herself smaller. This, evidently, is a woman who’s endured a terrible event, and Leiter is showing that, in her private territory, she can allow herself to express her woes.
Another image has a woman pressing her hands firmly against her cheeks, visibly stretching the skin beneath, in distress. Her expression is far from placid as she looks away in contemplation – a person struggling to cope with her current situation. Leiter’s pictures convey an intimate sort of narrative, representing how, when solo, no longer accountable for maintaining appearances, individuals are granted the opportunity to reflect and divulge their weaknesses. They can stop the act – put away the secure, grounded character they have created – and be candid.
All in all, Leiter’s photographs succeed in their purpose: to unveil the unsheltered, unprotected side of humankind and emphasize the blessing of isolation. In one’s room, there is no reason for worry or burden. One does not have to check one’s self, making sure that one’s appearance or actions are appropriate for all audiences. The women in this book – whether anxiety-free and languorous or fatigued and undone – they have the autonomy to do as they please, and that is a feat all on its own.
If Leiter's photography enthralls you, make sure to venture to the Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York, which will be exhibiting "In My Room" until June 30th. You positively do not want to miss out on the chance to see these images in the flesh!