Janice Guy's A Foot in the Mouth of Art
By Ashley Yu
The conversation on revealing versus concealing in the photographic representation of the Self is the same as taking selfies in infinity mirrors—infinitely reflected but none corporeal. There is an underlying equivocation between representation and distortion. This dynamic is taken up by experimental photographer Janice Guy. In her first solo exhibition Foot in the Mouth of Art , her years-worth of unearthed works are a commentary on, or scrutiny of, the photographic portrayal of femininity, anonymity, and sexuality.
Simultaneously intelligent and cheeky, Guy’s collection of her nudes are sensuous. Yet the camera in her hand, omnipresent in her photos and reflected by the clever placement of a mirror, creates the illusion that she is taking a photo of the viewer. In one image, we see Guy’s nude body in the reflection of her blue-tinted French windows. She poses with an elegance while the camera is held up, obscuring her face.
Guy is confident about her physical appeal. However, the presence of the camera subverts the hyper-sexualized male gaze. No longer is she the passive sexual object, but she is the subject that demands to be interacted with. She has ultimate control over how she wishes to be seen. Despite the concealed face, there is power behind Guy’s photo in its simultaneous assertion of female autonomy, as well as a reclamation of her power as a photographer. Her image is a statement on photography’s artifice, in which lies the ability to freely manipulate the seer and the seen. The mirror and its reflection is a recurring motif throughout all her works, as a mediator or a form of self-censorship. Though she takes a photograph of herself, standing coquettishly in front of her desk with her hip cocked, her reflection is distorted, splicing her torso from her legs. Again, Guy manipulates the perception of the viewer, denying them from seeing her full naked form, and it is in this denial of this sexual fulfillment that she dominates the dynamic between the voyeur and the subject.
In her lesser-known images, Guy seems to further reinforce the feminist undertones of her works. Through a series of 19 portraits, a collection of black “X”s gradually invade her pale face, ultimately resulting in her face entirely covered in black paint. It is a simulacrum of the obliteration of the Self. Each representation of the Self in an image becomes a distortion of identity as the shutter goes off again, and again. As she slowly obscures herself with black paint, it could either be commentary on the warped portrayals of women in photography, or another instance of empowerment through the denial of the voyeur. Whichever it is, Janice Guy’s photography is an outright declaration of her power to manipulate the seer. It’s like a foot in the mouth of the voyeur; it feels like a middle-finger raised in retaliation.
Janice Guy’s A Foot in the Mouth of Art is exhibited at Higher Pictures in New York until March 9, 2019.