Book Review: Woman Twirling by Jo Ann Callis

(Getty Publications $30, direct) Jo Ann Callis, an L.A.-based artist and photographer belonged to the vanguard of artists producing “fabricated photography” in the 1970’s and ‘80s. A retrospective of her work is on view through August 9th at the J.

(Getty Publications $30, direct)

Jo Ann Callis, an L.A.-based artist and photographer belonged to the vanguard of artists producing “fabricated photography” in the 1970’s and ‘80s.  Like the better-known Cindy Sherman, Callis doesn’t so much “take” pictures as “construct” them prop by prop and light by light.  A retrospective of her work is on view through August 9th at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and its catalog and, presumably the exhibition, too, are eye openers.

Surreal and dreamlike with dark narrative shadings, her constructions are simultaneously simple and extremely complex.  The more you look, the more you find.  Frequently domestic in focus, with props like curtains, chairs, cakes, beds, and decorative wall papers, her fabrications often introduce a lone individual, caught in blurred movement.  This person might be experiencing a fit of rage or rapture, you can’t tell which.  There’s rarely an identifiable face. Wardrobe and styling often harken back to the 1950’s, and are tinged by a singular darkness that contrasts ironically and frighteningly with the commonly held notion of the ‘50s as an era of simplicity and innocence.

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