The nude as theme and variations at the Griffin
WINCHESTER — The dancer and artist’s model Jim Banta looks a a bit like Terry O’Quinn, the actor who played John Locke on “Lost.” Banta also can look like rock, driftwood, versions of landscape, and one of the poet Rupert Brooke’s “swimmers into cleanness leaping.” Or at least he can at various points in “37 Photographers/One Model.” The show, which consists of 74 photographs and one naked Banta, runs through June 12 at the Griffin Museum of Photography.
Karin Rosenthal’s “The Human Landscape” runs concurrently at the Griffin. That’s fitting, since she curated “37 Photographs/One Model” and has several images in it herself.
The photographs have two things in common: an unclothed Banta and, almost always, an outdoor setting. In some of them, in fact, he comes across as a kind of wood sprite or, as in the photographs where he resembles stone or wood, as an extension of the natural setting.
As regards genre, the show upends expectations three times over. The photographic nude is usually female. The model is usually young (Banta is in his 50s, though we should all be so trim and fit in our sixth decade). Extended studies of a single sitter are usually by the same photographer. Here it’s the dancer who remains the same while the choreographer keeps changing. “37 Photographers/One Model” recasts visually the musical form of theme and variations — with Banta’s body as theme, and the photographs as variations.
Those variations really do vary. We see Banta in the woods, in a cemetery, in the water, in the air, in a window, in triplicate, in a mirror (well, it’s his reflection we see there), in a crystal ball (ditto), in color, in black and white, in closeup, double exposed, under the moon, in homages to other photographers (Edward Weston and Arno Rafael Minkkinen ), wearing antlers, running, climbing, and on a soccer pitch (or so one infers from his holding a ball).
The images are about presentation rather than personality or character. This is in keeping with Rosenthal’s own work. The other photographers in the show all studied with her, and one can see the affinity of their work with hers. “My preferred genre in photography has always been nudes in nature in which I explore the body as landscape and the cycle of life,” she writes. “Many of my nudes also have overtones of surrealism . . . a lurking, sometimes disturbing, reality coexisting with a more conscious visible one.”
This preference is evident throughout “The Human Landscape,” though much of the work owes even more to abstraction than surrealism. The human form is less end than means for her. The end can be expressing otherwise-inexpressible feelings, as in her “Inheriting Loss” series, inspired by the fate of family members murdered in the Holocaust. The interplay of light, water, and the human body are meant to evoke thoughts of the transitoriness of life.
Rosenthal’s “Tide Pool” series, with its shells and cliffs and seaweed, offer more tangible subjects.
Handsome, lustrous, and exacting, Rosenthal’s work is anything but haphazard. That can produce an airlessness. Although she shoots out of doors, the photographs have the self-contained, interior aspect of studio work. Seeking revelation, they run the risk of exalted obscurantism. The sight of a wood sprite, or even a soccer ball, while out of place, would not be unwelcome.
37 PHOTOGRAPHS/ONE MODEL
THE HUMAN LANDSCAPE: Photographs by Karin Rosenthal
At Griffin Museum of Photography, 67 Shore Rd., Winchester, through June 12, 781-729-1158 www.griffinmuseum.org