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September 21 - October, 2001 at Michael Dawson Gallery, Hollywood

by Ray Zone

The pictorial photographs of Claudia Kunin seem to glow with light from another century. There is a great air of mystery in the way that Kunin's subjects are poised between light and shadow, as if captured in the passage between two eras, fixed on the threshold between night and day, youth and old age, innocence and experience. The images are sublimely simple, and their humanity is direct. These haunting photographs could well have been made a century ago and the subjects captured within them long since deceased.

Two of the images are apt metaphors for the aesthetic hinges around which all of these photographs revolve. "Ghost" depicts a woman, her face hidden by a bonnet, walking away from the viewer out of a darkened room through a doorway into a blaze of sunlight. Girl at Door reveals the reverse angle from outside looking in at the face of a querulous child peering out at us from behind a door. Costumed in 19th century attire, captured in rustic settings, these figures themselves serve as doors into another world of luminous apparitions.

Fittingly, this exhibit of images is titled Revenant, the French word for ghost which, translated literally, means "they come again." The idea that photography confers a kind of afterlife on its subjects is overwhelmingly present in this array of imagery. Kunin has physically reinforced this idea by printing her images as life-sized silken shadows on translucent polyester chiffon and layered them over the identical image, slightly larger, printed on a polyester georgette material which is somewhat more opaque.

So, we look through one image and see its double, its visual doppelganger, layered behind it. As you walk around the images, they acquire motion and depth, go in and out of focus, shifting in ocular space so as to trick the eye as to their reality. The idea of time and memory, one era overlayed on another, is subtly invoked and an interior psychological space is manifested in real distance (about a foot and a half) between the two identical images.

Originally shot on Agfapan (100 ASA) on medium format (2 1/4" square) negative film and printed at 8" x 10" size, the black and white photos are actually rendered as a rich sepia tone. The printing on the polyester was produced through digital inkjet printing which gives the imagery an even greater warmth with the dispersion of the four printing colors (CMYK) used in the process.

Some of the photos are part of a series of images that Kunin created for a photo illustrated edition of the classic Stephen Crane novel The Red Badge of Courage. Costuming and directing her models to enact specific moments from the story, Kunin has reinforced the empathy and realism of Crane's great novel of the Civil War. Fire Gazer is a seriously minimal image of a wounded young man with a head bandage whose face is reflected gazing into a fire. His expression speaks volumes about the futility of war and man's place in the political scheme of the world. Loss of Innocence depicts two young boys playing with a rifle on a battlefield. Cannons stand mutely behind them in the background.

Another lovely image titled Mother's Hands depicts a close-up of a woman's hands peeling potatoes over a bowl held on her lap which is covered by a wide, flowing skirt. The image conveys strength and femininity at once, as well as capturing an act of pragmatic nurturing that has been witnessed by innumerable children the world over for centuries.

“Ghost,” photographic inkjet
print on fabric, 2001.

“Girl at Door," photographic
inkjet print on fabric, 2001.

“Fire Gazer," photographic
inkjet print on fabric, 2001.

“Loss of Innocence," photographic
inkjet print on fabric, 2001.

“Mother's Hands," photographic
inkjet print on fabric, 2001.