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Issue No. 17 - Enigma

Laura Larson at Lennon, Weinberg, Inc.

Images appear courtesy of the artist and Lennon, Weinberg, Inc.

Lennon, Weinberg, Inc. is featuring the photographs of Laura Larson through September 13. The show, which draws from work created between 1996 and 2012, resurrects the aesthetics of spirit photography and the history of feminist art in an effort to explore the role of the camera as medium.

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Laura Larson (Center) Talking with Guests

Larson’s black and white photographs of dollhouse interiors from the late 90s offer the most compelling images included in the show. They serve as testaments to the artist’s eye for detail and composition. However, upon viewing the images one cannot help but recall Laurie Simmons’ much more nuanced photographs of dollhouses from two decades earlier. Arriving at a time when contemporaries such as Cindy Sherman and Laurie Anderson had begun picking up the camera as a tool to complicate notions of female agency and representation, Simmons’ uncanny images of domesticity were right on point. The following decades offered much change in terms of feminist thought and art yet Larson’s photographs remain frozen in time. At best they are formal exercises, at worst they are merely derivative, emptied of the political force present in the work of her predecessors.

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Similar issues arise in the handful of images that include human figures in the exhibition. In an interview with Margaret Sundell reproduced in a booklet accompanying the show, Larson cites the work of pioneering feminists such as Carolee Schneeman and Hannah Wilke as inspiration for a series of bizarre photographs of partially nude women with ectoplasms either emanating from or acting upon their bodies. Perhaps the reference is meant to neutralize the ejaculatory character of the white, sinewy fabrics photographed in high contrast on the faces, breasts, and thighs of her semi-clad models. Again, the images reference important historical precedents without transforming the work into anything meaningful. They are empty footnotes.

Larson’s photographs of “apparitions” employ the visual tricks inherent to spirit photography of past and present. The blurry orbs created by cigarette smoke floating in emptied rooms and landscapes are indistinguishable from the type one finds reproduced in books dedicated to the recording of paranormal phenomena. As a pseudo-scientific imaging practice with a long history and far-reaching vernacular appeal, spirit photography offers a treasure trove of possibilities for artists interested in exploring the role of photography as a medium. Sadly, Larson’s work is missing the critical attitude necessary to complicate our perception of this genre. Charles Mumler must be rolling in his grave.

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Text by Cory Rice

Photographs by Chad Smith

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