Shotgun Review

In Case You Missed It: Circumspect

By Mary Anne Kluth September 20, 2011

Circumspect at Robert Berman/E6 Gallery was an exhibition of photographs by Jeff Charbonneau and Eliza French. Using only darkroom compositing processes and no digital manipulations, these images make use of cinematic mise-en-scène and elaborate staging to evoke mysterious, childlike narratives.

Dividing Sums (2010), is a large landscape-format, black–and–white photograph of women standing in a concrete space wearing mod, graphic dresses. Lined up near them are four large weather balloons printed in subtle white shades, casting shadows of varying degrees of density. The visual rhythm created by the stark darks and lights of the image recalls the dynamism of Ruth Bernhard’s 1930 iconic Lifesavers, another image involving round shapes and repetition of light and dark. The difference in scale between the women and the weather balloons makes the figures seem small and childlike, an impression reinforced by their bold costumes.

That visual rhythm is developed further in Long Before Pluto (2010), which features the same concrete setting occupied by several women wearing white dresses, two white weather balloons, and several shadow-like black balloons. One of the women has a long sheer black train attached to her 

Jeff Charboneau and Eliza French, Dividing Sums, E6 Gallery

Dividing Suns, 2010; c-print. Courtesy of the Artists and Robert Berman/E6  Gallery, San Francisco, CA.

clothing, and another wears a sheer skirt, creating a subtext of sexual or marital tension in addition to contributing to the design of the composition. Shot from above, surrounded by the spheres as if in orbit, the women in both of these photographs seem to occupy that tricky adolescent space often characterized in fairytales such as Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, or Alice in Wonderland, in which small and infantile characters possess latent, mysterious power. 

These fairytale themes continue through the rest of the works in the exhibition, and Charbonneau and French are at their best when deploying their elegant, spare visual sensibility.

 

 

Circumspect was on view at Robert Berman/E6 Gallery, in San Francisco, through September 14, 2011

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