Bettina Rheims: Retrospective.
Photographs by Bettina Rheims. Essays by Serge Bramly, Kim Levin, Jean-Christophe Ammann, and Berndt Arell.
Prestel, New York, 2004. 208 pp., 148 color and duotone illustrations, 9¼x11¾".
Throughout all of her voluminous series, Rheims explores the idea of
performance, particularly how gender is performed. Known for her stylized,
conceptual photographs of young women, Rheims adopts a commercial gaze and
creates fake settings where her subjects consciously perform in ways they
feel sexy. More Trouble follows on the 1991 monograph Female Trouble and
presents her newest photographs. Retrospective provides a selection from
each of her projects, most notable “Chambre Closed” where she collaborated
with working women in rented hotel rooms. Each photograph enacts a private
performance, usually an in-between moment as panties roll off the hips or a
shirt comes over the breasts, all for the voyeuristic and hypothetically
male viewer. Also of interest are her portraits of celebrities,
transgendered men, and androgynous teens, as well as her series with
performance artist Serge Blamy: a contemporary interpretation of biblical
history where Christ appears as both woman and androgen. Throughout, Rheims
’s favored subjects, still uncomfortable in their bodies and their gender
roles, are self-consciousness in front of the camera, conflicting with the
professional make up and commercial settings they inhabit and that we, as
visual consumers, are accustomed to seeing in fashion and sex magazines. In
these elaborate artificial scenarios, often a collaborative effort between
Rheims and her subject, Rheims creates a space where gender is both
performed and challenged. Here, sex explicitly reveals itself to be an act,
and the woman’s awareness of her performance in it disrupts traditional
illusions of the feminine erotic. Out at the same time, Retrospective and
More Trouble together provide a panoramic and focused view into her glorious
body of work to date.
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