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photo-eye Book Reviews: Double Life

Double Life, Photographs by Kelli Connell.
Published by Decode Books, 2011.
Double Life
Reviewed by David Ondrik
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Kelli Connell Double Life
Photographs by Kelli Connell. Text by Susan Bright. Interview by Dawoud Bey.
Decode Books, 2011. Hardbound. 80 pp., 36 color illustrations, 12-1/4x9-1/2".

I've been a fan of Kelli Connell's body of work since stumbling upon her website a few years ago. I was delighted to learn that Decode Books has published Double Life, a handsome casebound book of her photographs. There are 36 full color reproductions of her images, an introductory essay by Susan Bright, and a closing interview with Dawoud Bey.

The images in Double Life explore the life of two women who share a deeply intimate relationship. We see them engaged in their life together: sorting out the bills, playing pool, arguing, and talking a bath. What is transfixing about the images is that the same woman is playing both roles (think Hayley Mills, but less saccharine), and this moves the entire body of work into a complex psychological space. The photographs, which read as candid moments captured on film rather than carefully arranged digital constructs, ask us to consider a wider and more nuanced range of possibilities than if they were simply intimate images of a real-life couple. The collaging of separate negatives is seamless and the emotion expressed is so strong that we accept them for what they appear to be. Connell's model, Kiba Jacobson, is expertly directed so we believe every emotive encounter in the photographs truly happened. Of course, the images are fiction; the two women are one, and they never interacted with each other as photographed.

Double Life, by Kelli Connell. Published by Decode Books, 2011.
Double Life, by Kelli Connell. Published by Decode Books, 2011.
 Photographers who mess with the "truthiness" of the medium can transcend a specific event and break away from the camera's literalness. Here we're allowed to go beyond a specific couple's specific relationship (since there never was one) and consider the broader conceptual ground Connell is standing on. The big idea of Double Life is an exploration of sexuality and our connection to our personal identities. The women in these photographs clearly have an intimate, but sometimes undefined, relationship. In "Convertible Kiss" and "Sunday Afternoon" they are clearly lovers, while in "Road Trip" and "Pool Shark" they could be friends out for a platonic good time. In the interview with Bey, Connell states that the images are influenced by relationships she has experienced, either personally or vicariously, and this comes across in the intensity of the images. Although sexuality and gender relations emerge as a surface interpretation, it's clear that the root of the images explore the relationship we have with our selves. There is no narcissism or arrogance here; instead there is an expression of the principle that to truly love another we must first find the wisdom to determine and accept ourselves, warts and all.—David Ondrik

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David Ondrik has lived in Albuquerque since the late 1970s. He was introduced to photography in high school and quickly appropriated his father’s Canon A-1 so that he could pursue this exciting artistic medium. He received his BFA, with an emphasis in photography, from the University of New Mexico and has been involved in the medium ever since. Ondrik is also a National Teaching Board Certified high school art teacher.

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