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Jo Ann Callis: The Uncanny Everyday

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by Willemijn van der Zwaan 
GUP Magazine, Issue 59

Jo Ann Callis (b. 1940, United States) started her experimental photography practice long ago, but without a context you could easily mistake her early colour work for something that could have been produced more recently - in fact, the work stems from the 1970s. These images from everyday life, contain a certain uncanny atmosphere and erotic tension, which are now considered common characteristics in the work of many young contemporary artists. 

Callis is hailed as a driving force of the Southern California art scene of the 1970s. However, before she ended up in the Golden State, she followed somewhat more traditional route for women of that era. Although her art education started while she was at high school in Ohio in the 1950s, her academic career was interrupted by marriage and children. After relocating to Los Angeles, Callis picked u where she had left off, and joined a graduate studio programme. While her initial focus was on sculpture and painting, it was her teacher, Robert Heinecken - a highly unorthodox photographer himself - who encouraged her to experiment with photograph and to incorporate it in her other media.

Callis_Cigarette in Toe.jpg

The contemporary art world was in a state flux at the time, and the social environment the surrounded Callis was also coming undone. speak in the slightly cynical words of the inimitable essayist Joan Didion: the centre was not holding in 1970s California. However, while there w general social upheaval in the state - largely among counterculture youths 'dropping out' of society and getting heavily into drugs - things were al changing for the better.

Second-wave feminism was making strides i promoting equal rights for women, and although Callis was not on the front line of the movement. it did affect her artistic practice. The often frank sexuality and pleasure evident in her work is 8 reflection of the era, as are as the social and gender dynamics that Callis included in her staged images.

Her fabricated scenes seem playful at first glance, but there is often a slight uneasiness about them. Take, for example, the image of a man grabbing a woman, who is standing on a chair, by the ankles. 

While it is unclear what this scene is actually dealing with, Callis's use of what seems to be office furniture, as well as the corporate shoes and clothing worn by the subjects, suggests an underlying power dynamic. The harsh lighting adds to the effect, stressing the sinister nature of the situation. 


The inventiveness of Callis's constructed scenes and the avant-garde themes she explored are still of great relevance for the world of today. Things are not always so severe; a tenderness often shines through in her work. In one image, we see a young girl, sitting naked on the edge of her bed, soaking a black washcloth in a glass bowl on her lap. The soft light adds a warm glow to her quiet contemplation.

Overall, regardless of the subject, Callis never aimed to push her message on to the viewer. Her early colour photographs exude a timeless freshness and leave room for interpretation. This is a key quality of her work and, whether or not they are inspired by Jo Ann Callis, it is the kind of ambivalence that so many talented young contemporary photographer manage to incorporate in their work too.

Continue reading at GUP.

8 Photographers That Know Gender And Identity Are A Drag - HE/SHE/THEY on Huffington Post

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Priscilla Frank reviewed the group exhibition HE/SHE/THEY for the Huffington Post, highlighting 8 photographer's work. Here's a selection of the review:

"Drag, in case you didn’t know, is the tradition of dressing up in and often exaggerating qualities of a certain gender for the sake of performance. 

However, as Judith Butler made plain in her 1990 text Gender Trouble, “There is no original or primary gender a drag imitates, but gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original.” Although drag is often regarded as a form of impersonation, Butler asserts that there is no manifestation of gender that isn’t already constructed, choreographed or performed in some way. What is traditional femininity if not curls and heels and soft gestures? What is masculinity if not imposing posture, stern expressions and a heavy dose of pride?

Long before theories like Butler’s made their way into college curriculums and mainstream culture, they were played out before the camera. The exhibition “He/She/They” at Los Angeles’ ROSEGALLERY explores how photographers have demonstrated the way both gender and identity only exist when performed. The artists on view posit there is no natural way to be a woman or a man, just as there is no natural way to be oneself.

The show features a variety of artists who live and work everywhere from Mexico City to Osaka, Japan, each using the camera to document the always already artificial nature of the self.

Some photographers capture their subjects as strictly masculine or feminine, adhering to the codes that establish them as such. Others operate in the space between, depicting people who are androgynous or genderqueer. And many enjoy playing with conventions, turning them upside down while switching genders or ethnicities as easily as one switches an outfit. 

The following eight photographers are a diverse bunch. Some lay bare the norms and practices we associate with gender, while others work to overturn them. But all, in some way, realize that subjects don’t just perform for the camera, they perform in the self-portraits that constitute their lives. "

Graciela Iturbide,  Magnolia, Juchitan, Oaxaca,  1986

Graciela Iturbide, Magnolia, Juchitan, Oaxaca, 1986

Lise Sarfati,  Malaika, Corner 7th Street and Spring , from the series  On Hollywood , 2010

Lise Sarfati, Malaika, Corner 7th Street and Spring, from the series On Hollywood, 2010

Nikki S. Lee,  The Hip Hop Project (1) , 2001

Nikki S. Lee, The Hip Hop Project (1), 2001

Read the full review with images on
Visit the HE/SHE/THEY EXHIBITION PAGE for more artist and exhibition info.

'The view of Britain to foreign eyes', Martin Parr curated exhibition "Strange and Familiar"

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"What is the British national character, and why do we think that there is one? In his influential book "Imagined Communities", Benedict Anderson wondered at the fact that "the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion." Anderson argued that this sense of community had been conjured by the rise of homogenised mass media and increased literacy in the 19th century, with newspapers cultivating a national identity and delivering it to a larger number of people than ever before."
As The Economist writes, it is an valid point to note that media shapes identity from inside borders and outside borders.  Martin Parr curated exhibition Strange and Familiar at the Barbican tries to explore this.  Each photographer explores what "Britishness" is since the 1930s.

Evelyn Hofer, Untitled, [Band, Wales], 1965

Read The Economist article in full HERE.

Visit for exhibition details.



Tomoko Sawada's Facial Signature previewed by Jody Zellen in Visual Art Source

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Jody Zellen previews Tomoko Sawada's Facial Signature series with insightful commentary of how Tomoko's work, retrospectively, is groundbreaking and contemporary.

Tomoko Sawada, from the series "Facial Signature," 2015, photograph

Tomoko Sawada, from the series "Facial Signature," 2015, photograph


"... Sawada is as much a performance artist as she is a photographer. Sawada does not become someone else to the extent that photographers Yasumasa Morimura and Cindy Sherman do in their work. Rather she casts herself in the role of model, changing her appearance in myriad ways for her different projects. In her work she parodies conventions and familiar photographic formats like fashion photographs and wedding and school portraits to simultaneously examine the role of femininity in Japan and to expose stereotypes and assumptions about racial identity."

Read the entire preview on


Brad Feuerhelm discusses Christian Patterson's book "Bottom of the Lake" on ASX

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Brad Feuerhelm explores the nuanced complexities of anachronism in Christian Patterson's book Bottom of the Lake on ASX.

"In Bottom of the Lake, Christian Patterson’s book, we find several implements, which seek to convey a personal narrative of place and personal experience through the use of an anachronism that employ characteristics that we may perceive as nostalgia. The nostalgia, in this case, is a 1973 phonebook from the author’s hometown of Fond Du Lac (bottom of the lake), Wisconsin, in which Patterson has spent time negating or highlighting numbers and adding notes to references of business places, personal summaries of taste and distaste, while also layering the book with images the photographer has shot or equipped by way of vernacular imagery in the telephone book itself laid out over the original pages."

From American Suburb X by Brad Feuerhelm on November 30, 2015.

To learn more about Christian Patterson, visit his artist page.