ANNE COLVIN: SHOW YOUR FACE; TART
CONTEMPORARY - SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA
Anne Colvin, "Leave me Alone,"
John Feels Week
Anne Colvin, "I Told You I Was Ill,"
Anne Colvin's photographs convey uneasy
states of mind that are, nonetheless, easily recognizable. Her subjects
appear nearly infantile in their vulnerability. Curled up like snails
in the fetal position or swinging at the air with clenched jaw and fists,
they inspire the viewer to look on with feelings of empathy. Perhaps our
ability to identify with these emotions has something to do with how unguarded
her subjects seem. They don't hold back their emotions, but freely indulge
raw sentiments; they act out and thereby exorcise what appear to be deeply
buried hang-ups or fears.
One image comprising the series LEAVE ME ALONE, shows an elderly gentleman
caught in the midst of an anger fit. He could be lashing out at the world
because he's unable to cope with signs of his advancing age and the fragility
that they portend. In another photo, a woman, around the same age, looks
completely withdrawn, as though she has resigned against efforts to communicate
with those around her, as if she is seeking solace in an alternate inner
reality. Colvin isn't interested in capturing individual personality flaws
here. Rather, her subjects lend form to core emotions that belong to everyone,
emotions that may or may not have been stunted during early stages of
our development. It's as though she has traced certain behaviors directly
back to the roots of the id. She may be making the case that no matter
how much we try to suppress our outbursts and temptations, trying to cover
them with expertly versed social graces or calculated coping mechanisms,
they succeed in making an ungainly appearance during moments of strife
If the first series of photographs are confrontational, the subjects holding
the viewer at a distance with their defiant poses, the second series invites
a closer read. Colvin's choice of materials, digital prints on plotter
paper, coupled with their design and layout, gives these images a more
informal appearance. Meant to be read as diary entries or dispatches sent
via fax or email, they report on the mental and physical condition of
the pictured subject, a man named John. Overall, his outlook seems bleak.
One dispatch reports, John feels lost, and shows the protagonist
looking morose as he seeks shelter under a cocoon-like comforter. His
photo is paired with a smaller image of a compass symbolizing his distress.
These portraits are so expressive in and of themselves that the commentary
explaining John's moods becomes extraneous. Colvin may have offered a
less simplistic analysis and a more symbolic read had she omitted the
text and displayed the portraits with just the survival gear-a band aid,
the compass, a stick of lip balm, bungee cords-offered up as cures for
John's various ills.
Colvin's choice of title for this series, I TOLD YOU I WAS ILL, takes
cue from British comedian Spike Milligan who suffered from clinical depression.
Forever the dark humorist, Milligan had these words engraved on his tombstone.
Such a reference lends the studies a somber cast, and it becomes harder
to dismiss the alienation, estrangement and depression they convey as
mere temporary ailments.
These studies' clinical treatment encourages us to read the C-prints in
LEAVE ME ALONE differently as well. The photos take on the look of behavioral
studies rather than character sketches. Had Colvin pictured her subjects
conveying greater ranges of emotions however, showing them in more joyous
or hopeful moments for example, the images may have read as more comprehensive
and multi-faceted studies.
These milder states of mind may have
also allowed a more accessible point of entry for the viewer. As it stands,
however, the anguished state of Colvin's subjects offer an acute reminder
of the volatility of our own psychological and physiological well-being.
San Francisco, California