art: Staged Moments 

The photos in the Hand Workshop's new show are anything but candid.

For whether they appear to be mere self-portraits, social observations, or quiet domestic settings, the work of 17 photographers from around the globe show people or situations that can provoke thoughts on self-expression, politics or gender issues from many times seemingly innocuous imagery.

At first glance, Britain's John Coplan created an inverted self-portrait. Composed of three separate photographs, it features the nude septuagenarian in a vertical — rather than a horizontal — triptych. Relating the human form at its most literal, Coplan's picture imbues itself with a sense of mystery since the photographer exposes almost everything except the most telling aspect of any individual — his face.

Conversely, Norway's Vibeke Tandberg's "Faces" is a 12-photo study of a person's countenance altered via computer. A digital montage of a single face altered in a dozen slightly different ways — eye colors, complexions, etc. — this amalgamated Everyman (it's unclear which, if any, male or female face served as the template) literally illustrates the minor variations that make each person individually unique.

Appearing in their own photographs, two Asian artists provide their own takes of portraiture in unique East-meets-West style. Several photographs by Hong Kong's Tseng Kwong Chi features the artist as a cultural pilgrim. However, rather than Westernizing himself, he lets his image — an expressionless man bedecked in Communist Party fatigues amidst sometimes garish American culture — serve as a commentary on cultural incongruities. Whether standing in front of the Hollywood sign or next to Mickey Mouse (an odd couple to behold), Tseng's images transcend the standard touristy "here-I-am-in-front-of" picture that's the stuff of all vacation snapshots and instead moves it to a higher aesthetic level: That is, imagery that delivers an aesthetic punch.

Japan's Yasumasa Morimura chose not to merely present himself, but instead to portray himself as two cinematic icons: Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe. An obvious homage to Hollywood, Morimura's images may attempt to culturally intertwine both film and the all-male Kabuki theater troupes.

Cindy Sherman, the doyenne of the "photo performance" genre, has several photos in the show. Sherman's initial claim to fame originated with the artist placing herself in film-still environments that evoked a sense of mystery and mood. No doubt inspired by this style, Nikki S. Lee and Justine Kurland follow Sherman's aesthetic lead. Lee's series, such as "The Hispanic Project (18)," culturally integrate the artist within a boisterous neighborhood. Kurland's "Boy Torture: Love" portrays a teen-age boy in a secluded glen about to be exposed to a teen-age girl's attributes. Both Lee and Kurland create their own mythic worlds — attempting to formulate true-life scenarios that could easily pass for straightforward photo essays.

Holding their own amidst the international competition are several of Richmonder Katherine Wetzel's photographs. Featuring sculptor Elizabeth King's haunting mannequins, Wetzel's objects-as-portraits eerily succeed in emulating a sense of humanity better than many of the subjects within "Performance." Shot in robust black and white tonalities, Wetzel and King's artistic alliance captures human expressions with Pygmalionesque verve.

An apt icon to represent the show, Wetzel and King's creations straddle the razor-thin edge between reality and fiction that composes this show: Be it emotions, actions or fake tableaux, the imagery on display is enacted only for the sake of the camera that records it. S

"Portrait as Performance: Transforming the photographic portrait through images enacted for the camera" will be on display at the Hand Workshop Art Center, 1812 W. Main St., through May 12. 353-0094


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