Weekly Update 2 – Growing up Girl at Open Lens

This week’s Weekly has my review of Growing Up Girl at the Open Lens Gallery. Here’s the link to the art page and below is the copy with some additional pictures. I have more photos at flickr.

Dream Girls
Three photographers document the introverted world of the girl child.

People have been taking pictures of children since the dawn of photography. Lewis Carroll captured Alice Liddell in dress-up garb in the 1860s. In the 1980s Sally Mann photographed her children as they roamed the woods, often nude, like a trio of feral preteens. The idea of children as wild yet innocent, wise yet unschooled, human yet somehow magical, still compels the human imagination.

Jeff Hurwitz
Jeff Hurwitz, Geraniums, toned gelatin silver print

“Growing up Girl” at the Open Lens Gallery demonstrates three local photographers whose focus is on the child—specifically the girl child. And whether in staged black-and-white photos or in color works that seem as fresh as this morning’s cell phone snapshot, the worlds portrayed show one dreamy introverted female after another. These girls—whether dressed up or lounging in a pack on a couch or in a hammock—are beings whose innocence is writ large and whose fresh, unsmiling faces and dreamy looks suggest a mythic primal otherness.

Jeff Hurwitz
Jeff Hurwitz, Crazy Eights

Jeffrey Hurwitz
’s toned gelatin silver prints of his daughter Malia are perhaps the most discomfiting for being overtly suggestive of dreams, danger and surreal places. Geraniums looks down on the child from above. She’s nude, her eyes are closed, and she’s half-in and half-out of a bathtub of water. Her odd posture (face, one arm and a bent knee out of the water) evokes the fetal, and ideas of death and magic hover in the eerie stillness. Hurwitz’s photos—all shots taken inside the house—are beautiful, romantic and iconic. The atmosphere is hothouse girl.
Rita Bernstein
Rita Bernstein, Courtney and Megan, toned gelatin silver print

Ellie Brown
’s color photos of her two younger sisters and Rita Bernstein’s toned gelatin silver prints are in the snapshot tradition where images of small moments caught by a skilled photographer deliver something graceful and telling.

Rita Bernstein
Rita Bernstein, Pam’s Front Porch.

Bernstein’s black-and-white prints, like Hurwitz’s, eschew color. Also like Hurwitz, Bernstein’s not afraid to add a dollop of sensuality to her depictions. Courtney and Megan, the most striking example, shows two little girls sharing a quiet moment in a backyard hammock. The weirdly sexual image (the two look like lovers instead of 5-year-olds) is achingly lovely but edgy as well with its Freudian undertow about children as physical beings with rich emotional lives.

Ellie Brown
Ellie Brown, Emily Lounging, chromogenic print

Brown’s focus, on the contrary, is on the dailiness of teenage girls’ lives. One shot after another seems hyper-real in the manner of MTV’s The Real World. You can feel the nervous breakdowns forming for these sullen teens, and you’re powerless to stop them.

Ellie Brown
Ellie Brown, After School

People everywhere are clicking and sharing their uploaded photos of girls with the world via Flickr, where a search for “girl” turns up more than a million photos—most of which isn’t porn on that family-friendly site. The smiling faces of girls on Flickr, however, are no more truth of what it’s like to grow up girl than the photos in this exhibit.
Lewis Carroll photo of Alice Liddell

Being a girl is as individual as the family into which you’re born. “Growing up Girl” shows artists’ continuing fascination with our young as a special subset of the human species. We worry about them, dote on them, and always and evermore adore them with our cameras.

Sally Mann’s photo of her daughter, Jessie at age 5.

“Growing up Girl: Rita Bernstein, Ellie Brown, Jeff Hurwitz”
Through Feb. 4. “At Any Age” panel discussion: Sun., Jan. 14, 1-4pm. $10. Gershman Y, 401 S. Broad St. 215.446.3001.