Articles / Reviews

She, Her and Me

The first thing that strikes me about Iris Klein's beautiful photographic series She, Her and Me is how her work evokes the emotional atmosphere of Surrealism, its sluggish and mildly electrified languor, without ever critically referencing it as an art movement. She manages to hit some of the same psychic and visual marks made in the past, without tritely historicizing it. Her work summons the sense of what can be done with free time, if we let ourselves use it.

Klein, an Austrian-born photographer now living in Brooklyn, began this body of work in the late 1990s after a seven year stint as a fashion model in Japan and Los Angeles. Her mostly black and white photographs are exquisitely rendered as gelatin-silver prints in small editions. For seven years, between 1998- 2005, Klein's images featured a lone central figure whose face was obscured (under-exposed, to the point of absolute blackness) positioned in set interior decors and desolate landscapes.

At first glance, this tall lanky figure appears to be Klein herself. But looking closer, there's something about the staticity of the pose, the elongated body that isn't quite real. It's as if Klein has given a form to active blankness, the paradoxical state that defines the profession of modeling. The figure, in fact, is a primitive doll that Klein created to approximate her own physical presence. At 5 91/2, the doll is Klein's height, though thinner than humanly possible. In Alte Frau/Old Woman (1999/2005), the figure appears as a shopping cart lady, with a head-scarf, flat ankle-length boots and an open clasped purse.

In Swallow 1-4 (1999/2005) she's sprawled on a bed, legs loosely spread, wearing a button-down shirt and wide-legged trousers. The figure is not artificially sexualized; it is not actively desexualized, either. It is a supine body at rest in an animal state. Swallow a common bird, or digestive verb, or a pornographic imperative ... The images here act as a litmus test for the viewer. Is the figure feminine first, or simply human? Few photographers have depicted male bodies in this state of mildly sexualized animal grace.

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