Fantasies and Fascinations: Social Photography at Grapefruits Art Space

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Fantasies and Fascinations: Social Photography at Grapefruits Art Space

By Lusi Lukova March 27, 2018

In-depth, critical perspectives exploring art and visual culture on the West Coast.


Fantasies in Parallel, curated by Jess Garten and hosted at Grapefruits Art Space, is a group show of thirteen female and gender nonbinary-identifying Portland photographers. Garten, in her curatorial debut, is herself featured among the roster of artists. The photography on display is bold, vivacious. The exhibition’s layout ensures that the photographs engulf the space completely, making the viewer feel small in comparison. The choice to fully cover all four walls of the industrial space with such highly saturated images is admittedly pointed. For Garten and the artists, it presents a solidarity in which the bodies captured in the images, and the bodies present to witness them, declare their turf within spaces for art. With this exhibition, Grapefruits presents a validating opportunity to showcase the work of these artists in a supportive environment free from discrimination. Garten tells me the purpose of this show is “to get people together and OFF of our phones” to celebrate the inspiring work and practices of peers.

Highlighting both digital and film photography, Fantasies in Parallel is a striking, playful experiment in identity and presentation. The title aptly describes this show as fantastical; the photographs create their own alluring, brightly colored universe laden with mystery and intrigue. A strong sense of community and camaraderie is felt among these creatives. Acquainted with one another via the image-heavy culture of social media, their construction of an online support system now manifests in reality at Grapefruits. Further connoting the sense of collaboration and influence between these artists are strong thematic and visual parallels in their work. The entire exhibition presents as a friendly group show, filled to the brim with stimulating and overwhelming imagery. As visitors move through the space—encountering stoic portraiture, barren landscapes, and tantalizing boudoir-esque shots—they are meant to feel a sensory overload of emotion. One can expect to feel calmed by Sofija Olson’s campy scenes of beautiful bodies bathing, then fascinated by Haley Jensen’s spooky manipulation of reflective props, followed promptly by curiosity and perhaps unease at the sight of Yvette Aispuro’s model posing nude with a seemingly inordinate amount of baguettes.

Fantasies in Parallel; installation view. Courtesy of Grapefruits Arts Space. Photo: Jess Garten.

On opening night, the space is filled with music and colorful balloons. However, the general carefree and fun vibe has a more serious and powerful underlying message: that of being loud, unapologetic, and proud. Garten describes the camera of the artist as a “weapon,” an intense tool capable of wielding power and command. The works function to demonstrate the ability of photography to arrest and bewitch an audience. They serve to dominate the space and document the assertiveness of this art form and the legitimacy of the bodies it captures.

The glossy and futuristic photos by Miss Prys exist simultaneously alongside the subdued and reverent corporeal landscapes by Jenny Olsen. Both are glamorous and visually representative of a body’s location relative to the space it occupies. Each is sexy and contemplative in its own respect. Some of the exhibition’s photographs, like the polaroids of Williejane Dent and the portraits by Krystyna Solodenko, shine in their sincerity, like outtakes from a project done among close friends. Photos shot by Jess Garten, Rachel Lily, and Danni Ordoñez are more overt and seductive. Unsettling and provocative, they’re designed to rattle and captivate the audience, much like the shot by Garten of a young individual posing, adorned with raw meat. Particularly with the work of Sevin Mundo, their juxtaposition of fake gore and real weapons is an anomaly in the show that toes the line of comfort in a more glaring manner.

In capturing the mundanity of everyday life, empowerment through the body and through the photographic lens is a huge focus for these thirteen artists. Self-expression and comfort are key in this exhibit, mixed in with an air of childish innocence and a duality of the sweet and the provocative. The collages by Yvette Aispuro present another method of altering and manipulating the body in a space through photo montage. These lo-fi shots are striking next to the respective works of Jordan Raye and Alexis Paschal, which read more like high-fashion editorials, manipulating sight in a more beautiful and controlled style. Yet, unlike the language of fashion editorials, which is meticulously constructed in order to sell the viewer something, all of these images are fervently opposed to the commercialization and commodification of queer bodies. The desire for unabashed recognition is at the forefront and overpowers our society’s engrained desire for profitability at the expense of censorship.

Fantasies in Parallel; installation view. Courtesy of Grapefruits Arts Space. Photo: Jess Garten. 

Grapefruits Art Space is currently run and operated by Martha Daghlian, Cameron Hawkey, Jamaali Roberts, and Alix Ryan. Located in a spacious warehouse in northeast Portland, Grapefruits is an artist-run community space centered on accessibility and the support of emerging artists in the area. Grapefruits makes this accessibility transparent by continually providing a free space for young, marginalized creatives. The curation of Fantasies in Parallel successfully captures the essence of what it signifies to acutely convey the loud nature of social photography in a less polished, but perhaps more earnest, documentation. With their intersectional focus, each of these thirteen photographers relays narratives of femme and trans bodies, and is concerned with capturing the quotidian moments and struggles of what it means to exist in a queer body. In these works, consciousness of identity and playing dress-up for social gatherings coyly conflate. The photographers intermesh their own subjective experiences with those of their models, both candid and staged, to lay everything bare and fiercely demonstrate the inquietude of burgeoning youth and identity.

Fantasies in Parallel is on view at Grapefruits Art Space in Portland through April 7, 2018.

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