Peter Bahouth‘s series “Sadie’s Choice” is part of a larger project in which the Atlanta-based artist revisits historic uses of stereoscopic photography; 1950s pin-up and glamour photography inspired this particular series. Though I expected three-dimensional works when I walked into Marcia Wood Gallery, I nevertheless was surprised by an all-white room that was bare except for twelve viewing stands (similar to the one on the right).
As I peered into the first viewer and saw Jen and Otis, I was struck by the convincing illusion of three-dimensional space. I chuckled as Jen, bedecked in a revealing leopard print dress, gropes Otis, a bear who quite obviously will submit to her every desire. The juxtaposition of this outrageous scene and the formal setting heightens the intrigue.
Of the twelve works on display, When the Bamboo Flowers is unique in its aboriginal subject matter. It depicts a stereotypically exotic woman standing bare-breasted and wearing a loincloth. This overtly sexual image also contains innuendo: a bent bamboo stalk juts toward the viewer (when seen in three dimensions), and the mouse on top references slang.
As When the Bamboo Flowers demonstrates, some of the females in “Sadie’s Choice” appear to be passive subjects served up for sexual fantasy. Cupcake makes this point more literally.
It is noteworthy, then, that Bahouth’s models have chosen how to represent themselves in “Sadie’s Choice.” The series title refers to the Sadie Hawkins dances held once a year in many American high schools. During these events, traditional gender roles are inverted as girls ask boys to dance.
Bahouth states: “My decision to attempt to remove the context of the male photographer in control of a sexual photoshoot was to collaborate with female models who saw the project as a positive and creative opportunity to express their individual strength and sensuality.”
But I was left wondering: once Bahouth’s works are removed from the context of their production, do they subvert the binary power relationships (including author/subject, male/female, and colonizer/colonized) that have been widely criticized in the postmodern era? Or do they play into it?
Good Friday Night may provide a counter example to the “sexualized woman as plaything” theme. Its female subject can be interpreted as a woman in command. However, since the boys with whom the woman associates are so young, she may also be viewed as a tired old cougar—another stereotype that subverts female power.
No matter whether these works’ subject matter entices or provokes, the beauty of their meticulous construction is difficult to ignore. Rhyming colors and shapes please as they echo throughout the various depths created by the stereoscope. In Drunken Unicorn, for example, stripes of red on the stage echo in the guitar fret, the shoes, and the lipstick. In Yellow, seemingly endless curves and angles repeat, contrast, and harmonize.
Photographs like Stephanie at the Pool are impressive for their breathtaking three-dimensionality. (It is impossible to appreciate the splash without the viewing stand.)
In terms of stereoscopic technique, the only flawed image in this series is Circus Plume. Rather than ninety degrees, the room’s angle is acute. Perhaps this incorrect perspective is intentional, however, since Bahouth plays with reflection and mirroring in this photograph.
The austere atmosphere of Bahouth’s exhibition at Marcia Wood Gallery in no way betrays the rich visuals concealed within the viewing stands. “Sadie’s Choice” heightens the voyeuristic aspect of looking and makes possible the discovery of fantasy worlds that paradoxically exist in “real” space.
“Sadie’s Choice” is on view at Marcia Wood Gallery through Sat. Nov. 15.