What is it like to be a female photographer working in California?
There is a certain compassion, tenderness, and sensitivity to worldwide issues, coupled with high energy and creative freedom that speaks to me as a female artist/photographer working in California. I consider California in general to be home for people who are progressive in thought, innovative, and forward moving with their eye on the future. They are trendsetters and “go getters” who have a voice and are not afraid to say what they mean. I appreciate that kind of honesty and awareness. Geographically and spiritually, I am happy to be right where I am as a female artist/photographer living and working in Los Angeles, California.
To me, it looks like Gay Ribisi delights in producing unusual photographs for public consumption. What I see in her puckish tableaux vivants is reality literally being submerge into an Arbus-like kaleidoscope of humanity. Ribisi’s works feature bizarre compositions, unorthodox subjects and are hard to pin down to one unifying label or easy interpretation. Trying to appropriate a post-identity filter, looking beyond race, gender, and sexuality, to interpret her work is challenging.
Generally, a post-identity implies that society has moved on from our general marginalization of ‘others’ and the dangers of us/them binarism. Some of the popular movements gear toward embracing multiculturalism and plurality. It also examines hyphenated identification. The theory has as many detractors as supporters and can be viewed as quixotic and also as unjust.
Like Ribisi’s Head Above Water (2004), the post-identity I describe only peaks out over a much more complex issue. Conceptions of self and our place in the world can be fluid, evolving and influenced by a myriad of factors. Whether one swims with or against the tide, our individual perspective of what identifies us is or how we would like to be identified can be out of our control.
For example, let’s look at Ribisi’s Ladies in Waiting (2004) another photograph in the exhibition from her Wet Series originally debut at the Gallery Saint Germain, Beverly Hills, California (2004). Here Ribisi’s cinematic approach to image making is an ideal entrance to think about identity constructs. These fictional ciphers are suspended in a fantastical dimension upending our notions about reality. They are men costumed as flapperesque women drinking under water. Here you see Ribisi’s delight in creating a multilayered scenario to confound our expectations. I’m left questioning how should I identify them? What do they represent? What am I looking at? With identity politics still extremely present in our era, it doesn’t surprise me that it’s difficult to find a catchall identifier to comprehend the work. In fact, I argue it would be difficult to find a catchall identifier to label anyone.
Ribisi’s Super Sized Big Beautiful Women (SSBBW) series is a monumental homage to the generative powers of womanhood. Here Ribisi’s contemporary fertility goddesses are coming out of the shadows to be seen. Tenderly silhouetted against rich deep dark backgrounds, the models’ flesh , the folds of their skin, are proudly exposed in ample areas of the composition. Ribisi accentuates the corporality of these women with her insistence that the works be printed in large format for this, their premiere exhibition. Ribisi calls the viewer to remember our shared roots of image making, but these Venuses displayed are not traveling totems, they are real women. Photographers have a power to make things real. As Susan Sontag writes, “photographs furnish evidence. Something we hear about, but doubt, seems proven when we’re shown a photograph of it.” Ribisi shows SSBBW through her unique lens. The models’ weight is not obfuscated but celebrated.
Ribisi’s compelling photographs display expertise in production, composition and execution. She dares to explore taboos with her distinctive gaze nurtured in the Southern Californian landscape. While her subject matter can contribute to the post-identity discourse, her talent deserves no single label or quantification to limit its appeal.
Tish Greenwood, Executive Director, California Museum of Art Thousand Oaks (CMATO) is dedicated to creating cultural spaces where ideas are shared and people connect. Tish’s professional experience includes positions at the J. Paul Getty Museum, photo l.a. and ArtSlant. Her experience working for the National Endowment for the Arts spurred her recent curatorial project Mass Appeal: The Art of Corita Kent. Tish received her BA in Art History from John Cabot University, Rome, Italy and her MA in Museum Studies and Contemporary Art from Georgetown University and Sotheby’s Institute of Art-New York.