Looking at photographer Rosalind Solomon's well-composed black-and-white self-portraits – the wrinkles around the mouth, her puffed eyes, the wild gray hair, ample sagging breasts, and the age spots that she presents to the world, I thought anyone mired in our youth-obsessed culture needs to visit this solo exhibit at Silverstein Photography in Chelsea and ask themselves, honestly, if they would have the guts to pull off anything as real as this body of work.
Two fingers on my mouth, one of several imposing self-portraits dating from Solomon's residency at the Macdowell Colony in 2002, says several things. Raising her fingers to cover her mouth and staring straight into the camera, she shows us the gesture of silence. Be quiet. Don't speak. Two fingers on the mouth can also be a thinking person's gesture. One of the other photographs from Macdowell - beautifully printed gelatin silver prints, by the way, presents the aging self in metaphorical terms. She's nude, naked even, squatting on a snow-covered stone path before a white gate. Squeezing the shutter release cable in her right hand, resting her chin on her left hand, she's not quite ready for the pearly gate to open.
Inside Out functions as a mini retrospective, including representative images of her early doll photographs from the 1970s, a collage about the confining expectations and duties of her married life, images from previous monographs, a sculptural configuration representing her dead and buried selves, and a terrific video installation.
With the video, Don’t Eat my Flowers!, displayed on three monitors in the back room of the gallery, Solomon performs the words of intimidating parental interjections -"Don't your dare!," being a memorable one, through menacing close-ups of her moving lips and jutting chin. There's little doubt that the little girl who might be on the receiving end of such words would end up as a defiant one.
The influence of Lisette Model, Solomon's teacher, is apparent, especially in the technical aspects of the work and in some of the content, such as with Nursing home, Lima Peru and Blind girl with dolls, South Africa, but Solomon turned out quite different than Diane Arbus, Model's most famous student. Solomon relies more on herself than Arbus, and she is hyper self-aware, articulate and probing of her own social masks. Photographing close-ups of the dolls that she found in Alabama establish the obsession with the social conventions of appearances, especially within the strict confines of gender expectations, but her other visual investigations outside the U.S. also point to the universality of mask-making.
She is her own best subject. I can't think of many photographs better than After 9/11, Self with frozen turkey, Macdowell, Peterborough, NH. Dressed in sleeveless black clothes and sitting on a stool off-center, Solomon stares matter-of-factly toward the camera, shutter release in hand. Night has fallen. The flash hits the place where two door frames come together. Solomon grasps the leg of a limp feathered turkey splayed out on her lap. After that, I thought, what else is there to say?
Rosalind Solomon's Inside Out continues through April 5, 2008. Silverstein Photography. 535 West 24th Street. New York, NY 10011. Gallery information.