Exhibit looks at women’s representation in art, responding to male visions of the female nude
By Jonathan Colford
A touch of the macabre, a mosaic and a distorted naked body are among the interpretations of the female form in a new exhibit at the Ryerson Gallery.
Fourth-year Ryerson photography student Alison Skyrme, Natasha Lan, and Judy Ditner titled their exhibit of self-portraits Surface Tension. Skyrme says the title expresses the tension in the work, which examines the ways women have been portrayed by male artists.
“We were dealing with the assumptions people make when looking at images,” adds Lan. “There are things at the surface, things underneath, missing pieces, fragments almost.”
The three photographers did their work individually but decided to exhibit it together since it carried a similar theme.
Lan’s six photos, all self-portraits, distort the image of the subject. She says they were shot through a glass block, a technique inspired by early twentieth-century photographer André Kertész, who shot reflections of women through circus mirrors. Those photos achieved a similar distortion effect, Lan says.
In Skyrme’s sequence of nine black and white pictures, a blindfolded figure, clad in white, walks tentatively in a night screen filled with dead leaves and branches.
She says her shots are designed to give the impression of a woman being led off to her execution.
“I wanted them to have the resonance of a nightmare,” she says.
Skyrme’s works are photographic prints. Some were shot in a studio, others outdoors.
They’re motivated by her experience of being stalked by a man for many years. “You keep yourself a prisoner of your fear in the way you live your life,” she says.
Skyrme used a flashlight to light her pictures. She exposed them for three to five minutes while her assistant moved the flashlight around — unusual since a flashlight is usually used to add highlights, but Skyrme used it to light the entire photo. She says her use of this technique was inspired by photographer Diana Thornycroft.
Ditner is exhibiting distorted images of five paintings of female nudes and three shots of herself in a bathtub. The three bathtub shots are made up of smaller square tiles, pieced together like a mosaic.
Ditner says her work explores a new way of seeing the human figure, including representations of the female nude in the history of art.
“The images of the figure are deconstructed and reassembled using parts of the whole, asking one to use one’s mind to fill in the blanks,” Ditner said in an e-mail.