Peter Bahouth at Marcia Wood Gallery

Drunken Unicorn, 2008
Drunken Unicorn, 2008

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).

Jen and Otis, 2008
Jen and Otis, 2008

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.

When the Bamboo Flowers, 2008
When the Bamboo Flowers, 2008

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.

Cupcake, 2008
Cupcake, 2008

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, 2008
Good Friday Night, 2008

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.

Yellow, 2008
Yellow, 2008

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.

Stephanie at the Pool, 2008
Stephanie at the Pool, 2008

Photographs like Stephanie at the Pool are impressive for their breathtaking three-dimensionality. (It is impossible to appreciate the splash without the viewing stand.)

Circus Plume, 2008
Circus Plume, 2008

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.

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Comment(6)

  • k.tauches
    December 9, 2008 at

    I love stereoscope photography! not only is it a visual treat, but it is such an interesting part of our photographic history. . .it seems to me that in this case, the subject is rather irrelevant. . . and, for Bahouth, the visual effect kind of trumps all.

    I have noticed his development of these stereo images. . .he deliberately chose not to produce historic imagery, or images that take advantage of graphically large spaces (like mountains, or urban vistas or the guts of large factories). stereoscope photography reproduces real life spaceousness quite stunningly. . .but Bahouth choses closer geographies for 3-dimensionality which is interesting. . .by the choice of past subject matter, I rather just think he is having a lot of fun with a significantly cool technique.

    if we were to take away the technical novelty from the photographs. . .I suppose bayouth is going for a pleasureful, pop, peep show theme (pornography was rather popular in stereographs in the late 1800s). . .or perhaps he’s just pushing feminist buttons.

    -kt

  • Jeremy Abernathy
    October 28, 2008 at

    I really enjoyed this comment. Thanks.

    I suppose I should clarify my argument: I meant “unimpressive” as a way to move the conversation toward discussing the photos as just plain old photography.

    A woman in a swimming pool is a fairly common image, and there was little done there to add to or make it more original. The complaint isn’t aimed at censorship or at being puritanical. It’s actually more like “Hey, try something more interesting please?”

    But–I’d like to add–after I commented I went over to look at these stereoscopes the very next day. In person I realized: the pool image is actually one of coolest ones! Why? Because the water really does splash at you. So on that level at least (the formalist one), I was wrong.

    But really, turtlenecks? Hell no.

    How about pictures of women being active subjects, climbing a mountain, playing musical instruments, creating things or working with their hands, fighting aliens or dinosaurs, etc. (They could be wearing bikinis, body paint, or even regular clothes too.)

    I know a couple of women, for example, who feel really sexy having authority: wearing heals, being a corporate “power bitch” as one worded it. There’s room for variety.

    I really liked this series, actually, and I loved the discussion it’s bringing up here.

  • Anon
    October 28, 2008 at

    Are you kidding me? What would be an acceptable depiction of a woman in a sexual context? If a woman decides to celebrate her own beauty, she has “internalized the male gaze” and if she has chooses to present herself in a position of authority, she is a “cougar”? (And for the record, that is a disgusting stereotype).

    Also, Jeremy, why is it unimpressive for a woman to choose to present herself in a bikini by a swimming pool? What should she be doing? Would it have been more impressive if she had chosen to wear in a turtleneck sweater? Would it have been better if she had decided to pose at a blackboard working out logarithms? I find these views to be extremely puritanical. Sexual expression is just as valid (and vital) as emotional and intellectual expression.

    This all goes back to Gloria Steinem’s very honest interpretation of the fundamental problem with gender bias in society. I’m paraphrasing here, but she said something to this effect – It is a matter of people believing that women are the ones who get fucked and men are the ones who do the fucking. Believing this subtly reinforces the idea of woman as the natural and just victum of violence, aggression, conquering and humiliation.

    Honestly, it is clear that despite your thoughtful, progressive position, you have yourself accepted the idea of this binary power relationship. If you really believed that women and men were equal, you wouldn’t be asking these questions. Would you have the same things to say if the photographs depicted men – gay, straight or otherwise?

  • Jeremy Abernathy
    October 23, 2008 at

    OK, let’s give this a try… (This will be verbose.)

    1. Rhetoric:

    Isn’t it great that the conflict here was planted in the form of a question? (Joyce: “Do they subvert the binary power relationships . . .? Or do they play into it?”)

    And that the challenger (Jerry) formed a critique out of a salvo of questions: “If they do play into existing power relations, whose fault is that?” and etc.?

    2. Resolution?

    The suggestion, to me, is that we’re talking about females who either have “internalized the male gaze” or… viewers who interpret the scenes by standards normally associated with “the male gaze.” I think the concern is there… both of those statements approach similar flavors of not so good.

    But then there’s what appears to me to be your main gripe: failure on the part of viewers to fully consider the methods and implications behind their 4-7 second glance into binoculars.

    I’ll have to side with you… to a point. If we treat the women as the photographer describes them (as “collaborators in art”), I think we have some cause to be unimpressed by wanting to show themselves, say, in a bikini in a swimming pool.

    Unimpressed, sure. Disapproving? Hmm… I’m not really feeling that either.

  • Jerry Cullum
    Jerry Cullum
    October 22, 2008 at

    You can tell I had started to write something else before I decided to quit, and failed to delete the whole passage.

  • Jerry Cullum
    Jerry Cullum
    October 22, 2008 at

    Isn’t the very act of removing from “the context of its production” “playing into” the binaries unmasked by critique? I believe (and could be wrong) that a Gramscian would insist that it is precisely the acceptance of art objects as taken-for-granted that reinforces the existing internalized mechanisms whereby we not only take positions against our own best interests, but vociferously support the conceptual structure that restricts us to our detriment.

    How would these works be different if they were self-portraits with a timer? if they were taken by a female photographer? if they were set up by a photographer of any gender as an ironic gesture?

    How would they be different if we walked into the gallery and assumed that Bahouth had controlled the whole photo session? and then read the statement and discovered what had actually happened?

    I am fascinated by what these photographs tell us about self-presentation in our time, among the women who chose to participate in the project. (But what, exactly, do the photographs tell us? Can we assume we know the degree of self-awareness of the subjects, and how much they identify with or are wittily undermining the scenes they created? Can we assume that, any more than we can assume we know how these photographs were made just by looking at them? If they do play into existing power relations, whose fault is that? Do we have the right to guess the answer to that question?)

    I have lots more to say or write but I should quit at this point, and let somebody else type.

    In terms of

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