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December 5, 2002 - February 8, 2003 at Stephen Cohen Gallery, West Hollywood

by Ray Zone

“Allegra, 4 Playing Dress-up, Malibu,
California”, 2002, Cibachrome print.

All images © Lauren Greenfield/VII,
2002, all rights reserved.

“Kristine, 20, poses for a lingerie shoot
for Ocean Drive Magazine, Miami Beach,
Florida.”, 2002, Cibachrome print.

“Jennifer, 18, at an eating disorder
clinic, Coconut Creek, Florida,”
2002, Cibachrome print.

The 21st Century is an empire of images. We are preoccupied with appearances that are shaped and pored through the lambent vessel of the camera’s lens. Women’s bodies, Joan Jacobs Brumberg has observed, have become “public projects.” Femininity has become increasingly exhibitionist in nature--not that this is exactly a new trend.

Lauren Greenfield attempts with her photography “to deconstruct the illusions that make up our reality.” A new book and photo exhibit of Greenfield’s titled Girl Culture is a wide-ranging look at the ways in which women make their bodies a public project. In the afterword to her book, Greenfield writes that “Girl culture has been my journey as a photographer, as an observer of culture, as part of the media, as a media critic, as a woman, as a girl.”

Many of the pictures for Girl Culture were made by Greenfield while on assignment for the New York Times Magazine, Time, Harper’s Bazaar, and W. “I realize that, as a photographer exploring the media’s influence, I walk a fine line,” she writes. Her photographs provide a window on the private rituals and social lives of young girls, from dressed-up children and teenagers to cheerleaders, athletes, strippers, debutantes and actresses.

Fifty of the 100 color photos in the book are on display in the exhibit. The photographic images were originally shot as positive transparencies. For the exhibit, Lambda prints, ranging in size from 11 x 14 to 20 x 30 inches, were made on Cibachrome paper from laser scans. Greenfield works with the full photographic frame and never crops her images.

Technically, Greenfield’s photography serves up images that are rich with color saturation, sharply focused, well-lit and composed. Most of them are posed shots with the subjects looking directly at the camera. The rest are candid glimpses of their subjects examining their own faces or bodies. In every one of them, the obsession with the face and body and their public presentation is evident.

A subset of photos in Girl Culture were made at a weight-loss camp in the Catskills. In today’s teen-age world, to be overweight is to be unpopular. Another subset of photos records the activities of showgirls in Las Vegas, from audition to dressing room preparations. In the book, many of the photos are accompanied by interviews with the subjects that are presented as monologues printed adjacent to the photos.

Fastidiously made-up mothers are shown with their budding fashion-plate daughters. From Spring break in Panama City, Florida to model auditions in Beverly Hills, California, Greenfield’s sober photography serves as field work in contemporary sociology, a probing examination into the 21st century female psyche.

“In this work, I have been interested in documenting the pathological in the everyday. I am interested in the tyranny of the popular and thin girls over the ones who don’t fit the mold,” writes Greenfield. “Most of all, I am interested in the element of performance and exhibitionism that seems to define the contemporary experience of being a girl.”

Greenfield’s images have an empathy that counters the glossy unreality of advertising photography. The insecurity, anxiety and humanity of her subjects in their hour of display always remains touchingly apparent. The images are a healing anodyne to the iconic visual flood which, hour to hour, bombards us on a daily basis.

“Showgirl Anne-Margaret in her dressing room at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. She tapes a note that says, 'I approve of myself' and pictures of models she admires to her mirror for inspiration,”
2002, Cibachrome print.

“Alli, Annie, Hannah, and Berit, all 13,
before the first big party of the seventh
grade, Edina, Minnesota,"
2002, Cibachrome print.