The “I” and the Beholder
Eclectic group show at Matrix focuses on identity
By Sam Adams
It’s the early-morning hours before the zoo opens. Many of the animals are still indoors. The lone mammal in the zebra pen is a beautiful girl, completely naked but for black-
No, this is not the beginning of one of my dream diary entries. It's just one of the many scenarios photographer and model Minie Gonzalez found herself in as the sole muse for a show of 28 photographs by 15 photographers. On display at Matrix Fine Art, 1 x 15 (One Model, 15 Photographers) is the third such collaborative project concocted by professional shutterbug Pat Berrett. (The inaugural One Model show was at the now-defunct Downtown Contemporary Art Center in 2007.)
Berrett says he came up with the idea when talking to a model about different perceptions of the same subject from one photographer to the next, and how that translates into the resultant image. "I just kind of birthed it," Berrett says of the show format, "and it just goes its own way once we get it started."
Of course, artistic divergence is inherent in themed group shows. And often detrimentally. There’s so much room for ideological and creative disconnect that unless the coordination is meticulous, it’s difficult to achieve a body of work that feels like a whole. Fortunately in the case of this show, that disconnect makes for the exhibit's most appealing quality; it evokes complex questions of identity.
You can chalk up some of the well-fleshed-out character study in 1 x 15 to a skilled ensemble of photographers with an eclectic variation of styles. But much of the credit should go to Gonzalez. She’s a chameleon in front of the lens, which gives the collection a quality that begs comparison to Cindy Sherman's famous Untitled Film Stills series.
Surprisingly, Gonzalez was not originally slated to star in this show. Another model fell ill, and Berrett saw her as a perfect alternative. "It's really critical that you have the right model for this," he says. "It's got to be somebody that's really flexible in terms of who they can be." Renovations at the gallery space were another setback that postponed the show by a year. When all was said and done, Gonzalez had been working with the photographers for more than a year and a half. This afforded her the time to go through transformations that add to the show's aesthetic as a diversified character study. "A model is not just a pretty girl," Gonzalez says. "She has to do a lot of pretty intense things, be it physically intense, emotionally intense." Among these things were shaving her head and often disrobing in public spaces, such as at the zoo or on the side of a highway.
In Berrett's image "Waiting," Gonzalez clings a paint-chipped crucifix gravestone. She wears an expression of primordial fear, like a distresssed creature hatching into a new world. Berrett's work plays heavily with symbolism, in this case evoking a purgatorial scene. The contrast between the naturality of a frightened, naked angel and industrial elements like rusty iron rods, a chain-link fence and the chipping cement cross bring a haunting sense of limbo to the piece.
Another striking image is Oscar Lozoya's confrontational black-and-white portrait "Minerva" (after Gonzalez' given name). The ink-on-fiber print is exquisite and complemented by a rich scale of tones. It's perhaps the most simply composed piece in the show, and also one of the most classical and alluring.
Lozoya is among the most well-known photographers working out of Albuquerque, and Gonzalez speaks of her session with him in high regard. "That was a dream and a half," she says. There's also a personal connection to Lozoya's resplendent portraits of homeless people that Gonzalez can connect with. "I come from a low-income background, and I started photography when I was homeless," says the 24-year-old. "I wanted to capture the inside part of being homeless because of what everyone thinks it is."
Despite her young age, to describe Gonzalez as a budding photographer is an understatement. After all, she's been shooting since she was 12, when she was given a camera, rolls of film and a paid class through a program for low-income youth while living in San José, Calif.
Since then she's built a mini-empire (pun intended) through her rigorous work ethic and social networking prowess. In addition to several paid shoots a month—often weddings—she's on her second 365 project (with the results of each day posted on Flickr). This self-portraiture also shows up in the exhibition at Matrix. Gonzalez' framing and use of contrast is impeccable in "The Glory of the Grime," where she sits in the middle of an empty bathroom at the Expo New Mexico fairgrounds. It was another early morning. Her assignment was to shoot the State Fair. She says she thought, "I will never see it like this—completely empty at 6 or 7 a.m.—so I just sat down and started taking pictures." Which is exactly what she’s been doing for more than a decade, and like the 1 x 15 series, she's been transformed in the process.
1 x 15 (One Model, 15 Photographers)
Runs through Jan. 28
Matrix Fine Art
3812 Central SE, Suite 100 A
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