Tag Archives: Gender Roles

Kelli Connell: Double Life

Floating, 2005; from the series Double Life (c) Kelli Connell

These two women seen above floating in a pool–this never actually happened. Kelli Connell, whose work as Leo Costello claims, “falls within a tradition of Surrealist photography… [giving] form to the multifaceted, dynamic unconscious,” digitally manipulates her images to combine multiple exposures. She uses what is commonly thought of as an objective tool to create what she has instead termed “constructed realities.”

Her series Double Life (on view at Photo-eye Gallery through June 30, 2012) in which she employs this technique, “documents” the evolving relationship between two women (one model). In addition to exploring the visual rhetoric of digital imagery, the work is an investigation of and a kind of metaphor for the fluidity and instability of identity, sexuality, and gender roles.

“By digitally creating a photograph that is a composite of multiple negatives of the same model in one setting,” Connell writes in an artist’s statement, “the self is exposed as not a solidified being in reality, but as a representation of social and interior investigations that happen within the mind.”

This solo exhibition has previously been on view at Yossi Milo Gallery in 2007, and Catherine Edelman Gallery in 2011. That same year, Decode Books also published the Double Life monograph, which is reviewed here by Time Out Chicago and was featured as one of American Photo magazine’s Books of the Year.

A limited-edition print from that series, Floating, 2005, is available for purchase from Aperture. The image also appears in Connell’s volume of the sold out tripartite series MP3: Midwest Photographers Publication Project (Aperture 2006).

Additionally,  Connell’s work has appeared in Photo Art: Photography in the 21st Century (Aperture 2008) and The New York Times Magazine Photographs (Aperture 2011).

Prior to the show, check out a transcribed conversation between Connell and American portrait photographer Dawoud Bey on the subject of Double Life at Flak Photo.

Kelli Connell: Double Life
Exhibition on view:
June 1 – June 30, 2012

photo-eye Gallery
376 Garcia Street
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(800) 227-6941

The Girls of Chechnya

In 2010, when she was working for a news agency in Moscow, Diana Markosian asked to be sent to Chechnya. The photographer, who is Russian but studied in the United States, was 20 years old and curious about the history of the embattled region.

“They wouldn’t send me so I decided to go by myself,” she remembers. “Grozny became my destination and later became my home.”

Markosian went back repeatedly after that first visit and soon became a specialist in covering a region where, she says, many of her colleagues don’t want to go. She moved to Chechnya last November to live there full-time. But, she says, her close relationship with the area doesn’t mean that it’s not a risky place to live and work—kidnappings are frequent, she says—or that such risk does not affect her photographs. Although Russian leaders declared the region normalized and peaceful three years ago today, following more than a decade of wars against rebels, life is still fraught. They may not appear in the frames, but Chechen authorities are the unseen presence in the work shown in this gallery, a personal project through which Markosian addresses the lives of girls growing up in Chechnya.

“It’s one thing to come here for a week like I used to do. It’s another to start living here, and not only hear what these women are going through but actually experience it yourself,” she says.

Markosian says that Chechnya has experienced a wave of Islamicization since the collapse of the Soviet Union: religious dress codes are mandatory, young (and polygamous) marriages are frequent and gender roles are increasingly conservative. The president, Ramzan Kadyrov, has said publicly that women are the property of their husbands. And at the same time, high unemployment has meant that many young women who are already becoming mothers still live with their own parents.

For Markosian, this has meant that—after she was told by security officers that her belt full of lenses made her look like a suicide bomber—she carries a handbag rather than the photographer’s gear bag to which she was accustomed, and that she has gotten used to being questioned or having her photographs deleted by officers. “As a regular citizen I don’t feel danger,” she says, “but just because I’m doing something a little out of the ordinary, especially for a woman, I’m looked at more carefully.”

It has also changed her working process. Because of what she says is widespread but justified distrust, people are wary of being shown doing anything that could be perceived as unusual. Something as seemingly innocent as a photograph of a woman smoking a cigarette could have dire consequences. The fear of being different has been a particular obstacle for photographing teenagers, as their parents are worried about what might happen if their children are seen as nonconforming.

But Markosian says that, by spending weeks with her subjects before taking a single photograph, she has been able to gain the access necessary for the project. And, in doing so, she says she has found these women to be a mirror for Chechnya as a whole. “That entire idea of a generation building itself and the resilience these girls have really motivated me,” she says. “They are trying to make something of themselves at the same time that this region is trying to build after almost two decades of war.”

Diana Markosian is a photographer based in Chechnya. See more of her work here.

Kelli Connell

Kelli Connell’s photographs seem to be everywhere these days, and soon they will be in Los Angeles, opening on February 25th at the Kopeikin Gallery. The exhibition, Double Life, will run through March 31, 2012. I have been a long time fan of her constructed realities, executed to perfection and visually charged. Only recently, I discovered that it is not Kelli Connell in the photographs, but a long time collaborator. No matter who the subbject, Kelli ‘s work is a powerful investigation of identity, sexuality, and gender roles and in some ways, the truest sense of self portraiture. She forces the viewer to explore their own identity and the process can be slightly unsettling.

Kelli received an MFA from Texas Woman’s University and currently lives and teaches in Chicago. She has exhibited widely and her work is held in many collections including Microsoft, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Columbus Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum of Contemporary Photography, The Haggerty Museum of Art and The Dallas Museum of Art. Her monograph, Kelli Connell: Double Life was published by DECODE Books in Fall 2011. Kelli will be at the Kopeikin Gallery for a book signing on Thursday, February 23, 5:30 – 7:30.

I’ve always seen identity as something that is very fluid and as such I usually shy away from labels altogether. Still, a larger part of this work explores the nature of identity formation. In my own personal history, the process of questioning my sexuality was confounding, because the conventional categories, and even the need to categorize in the first place felt like…something being pushed on me. Meanwhile the internal experience of my sexual and gender identity was quite natural and yet not a static thing at all. Perhaps this work is trying to figure out why we rely on categories and labels the way we do.

These images were created from scanning and manipulating two or more negatives in Adobe Photoshop. Using the computer as a tool to create a “believable” situation is not that different from accepting any photograph as an object of truth, or by creating a story about two people seen laughing, making-out, or quarreling in a restaurant. These photographs reconstruct the private relationships that I have experienced personally, witnessed in public, or watched on television. The events portrayed in these photographs look believable, yet have never occurred. By digitally creating a photograph that is a composite of multiple negatives of the same model in one setting, the self is exposed as not a solidified being in reality, but as a representation of social and interior investigations that happen within the mind.

This work represents an autobiographical questioning of sexuality and gender roles that shape the identity of the self in intimate relationships. Polarities of identity such as the masculine and feminine psyche, the irrational and rational self, the exterior and interior self, the motivated and resigned self are portrayed. By combining multiple photographic negatives of the same model in each image, the dualities of the self are defined by body language and clothing worn. This work is an honest representation of the duality or multiplicity of the self in regards to decisions about intimate relationships, family, belief systems and lifestyle options.

The importance of these images lies in the representation of interior dilemmas portrayed as an external object – a photograph. Through these images the audience is presented with “constructed realities”. I am interested in not only what the subject matter says about myself, but also what the viewers response to these images says about their own identities and social constructs.