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Book of the Week: Selected by Rowan Sinclair-Gregg


Book Of The Week Showcaller Photographs by Talia Chetrit Reviewed by Rowan Sinclair-Gregg Showcaller is the first book exploring the work of emerging artist Talia Chetrit. It brings together a broad range of her work made between 1994 and 2018. The title Showcaller is a theatrical term which references the performative aspects of Chetrit’s work, the power dynamic between subject and photographer, and, ultimately, between the photographer and her audience.
Showcaller. By Talia Chetrit.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=ZH776
Showcaller  
Photographs by Talia Chetrit

Mack, London, United Kingdom, 2019.
Unpaged, 8¾x11½".

Showcaller is a book of images taken between the years 1994 and 2018 by Talia Chetrit. Chetrit explains the title, Showcaller, as a person “who calls out cues, someone in an authoritative position but who ultimately is not in control.”

The book opens to a self-portrait: white painted eyebrows, red lips and the narrow line of her bust. The first impression this image made upon me was one of a fashion photograph, with its grainy and cold coloring. This would not be a mistake. A few of the images in Showcaller are in fact outtakes from fashion campaigns, and one wouldn't be entirely surprised to find Celine or Helmut Lang written across the bottom of Chetrit’s images.

There is an undoubted cohesiveness to Showcaller, and, because of the scope, to organize Chetrit’s photographs linearly is a natural impulse. Somehow, her images pass by together, even as technique, subject matter and equipment invariably change. The book is composed of a few series, or more appropriately, eras of Chetrit’s photographs and pieces from her personal archives.

The early group is portraits of family, herself, and young friends, often in mundane settings: outdoors on porches, in the woods, basements, and bedrooms. Intermingled are scenes from staged crime scenes that Chetrit created as an older teenager with a friend, the backgrounds of these images are a bit more constrained. We see a teenage girl doused in fake blood and posed, one shoe strewn across the subway floor. Later we see another staged murder of a teenage girl who is slumped against a white blood-smeared door, her hands and white t-shirt drenched. A boot, carelessly? purposefully? left alone in the foreground.

Questions of selfhood, autonomy, artifice, performance and subjecthood arise with Chetrit’s images. There is, of course, the photographer, the subject of the photograph, and the viewer of the work. In her later photographs, Chetrit herself is all three. Here I think back to the title. In her self portraits, the question of who the showcaller is becomes most pronounced. The artist’s own nude body is on show, her legs opened, or her body bent over, or posed on a space heater — she wears black jeans, all but removed save their outline, and see-through bodysuits. She places her naked body behind a clear ashtray.

There is something distinct about these photographs that makes it hard to maintain the authority we think we have as observers. In revealing so bluntly, something escapes us: the image is both unclothed and clothed. The background of her nudes is sparse and controlled: a white-walled studio, with concrete floors, empty and isolated. There is purpose and a sense of self-containment in Chetrit’s dual gaze, and in her holding of the camera’s cable release, but we are not quite privy to it.

The authority of viewing, and not in being viewed has always easily been flipped, who has more command: the viewer or the actor? Chetrit seems to focus on both concave and convex, on both artist and audience as ultimately not in control, and we are given up to something outside both these things in their seamlessness.

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Rowan Sinclair-Gregg is based out of Santa Fe New Mexico, where she completed a degree from St. John's College. She works doing freelance writing, editing and proofreading. You can email her at Rsinclairgregg@gmail.com.

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