Thursday, January 14, 2010

Margaret de Lange, Daughters @Foley

JTF (just the facts): A total of 13 black and white images, framed in black and not matted, and hung in the single room gallery. All of the prints in the show are chromogenic prints, made between 1994 and 2004, in editions of 10. Most of the prints are 18x24 or reverse, with a few sized 20x20 or 24x24. A monograph of this project has recently been published by Trolley Books (here). (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Sally Mann's provocative photographs of her children have cast an amazingly long shadow across the the subject matter of childhood, particularly that of young girls. I almost didn't come to to see this show because the announcement showed an image of two scantily clothed girls playing in the forest, and my first reaction was "Sally Mann derivative". This was entirely unfair and ignorant on my part, but nonetheless, I was surprised to be confronted by just how strongly Mann's work has created the playing field on which others now have to play.
Margaret de Lange's black and white photographs of her daughters travel over some of the same childhood terrain that Mann's images did, but with a much grittier and wilder feel. The images are dark and grainy, with deep shadows and contrasts that make the summertime setting seem that much more feral and unruly. The girls make the most of the warm days in the woods by creating their own imaginary games and outdoor adventures, using animal skins, wildflowers, a feather headdress, discarded nylons, a swing, and an old window screen as props. A dead squirrel is hung by a string, while a black dog seems to have been rescued from the water's edge. Dirty feet, skinned knees, and a casual disregard for clothing are the norm. The fur wolf hoods give the entire scene a Where the Wild Things Are authenticity, just on the edge between fun and little animalistic and out of control.
One of the main criticisms of Mann's work was that it was potentially exploitative, a bit too stagy and posed; as a result, some found some of the nudes altogether too explicit and confrontational. De Lange has avoided this trap in two important ways. First, while there are a handful of images where her daughters stare right into the camera (a few that are quite startling and mezmerizing), for the most part, the pictures are indirect glances and sideways views, where the girls have been captured in play without undue influence or obvious direction. Second, de Lange refrained from publishing the work until she could get the assent of her now grown daughters, who could do so with the adult knowledge of what the display of the pictures might mean. So while there are nudes on view here, the idea that the girls have been misused in some inappropriate way is entirely (and thankfully) absent.
Overall, these pictures seem like illustrations from a modern day Scandinavian folktale of growing up: two girls wander out into the forest to play, survive a series of exciting and harrowing adventures (large and small), and emerge on the other side as strong, confident, grown women.

Collector's POV: The prints in the show are reasonably priced at $1800 each. De Lange's work has no history in the secondary markets, so interested collectors will need to follow up at retail. While these works don't fit into our particular collection, I think de Lange's images would form a nice foil to Mann's work (an intriguing back and forth could be set up via some smart pairings) and would obviously fit more broadly into collections of childhood/portraits.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:
  • Artist site (here)
  • Reviews: British Journal of Photography (here), (here)
Margaret de Lange, Daughters
Through January 30th

Foley Gallery
547 West 27th Street
New York, NY 10001

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