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Model American.

Photographs by Katy Grannan. Essay by Jan Avgikos.
Aperture, New York, 2005. 112 pp., 70 color illustrations, 11½x9¾".

Photography is a subtle agent of our interconnection and our dislocation. The frame can glue together disparate, transient components in time and space, and then provide us a pathway to a sort of impersonal “lived” experience; simultaneously, the camera can yank a moment out of a flowing current of life, to lay it trembling and fluttering on the bank, pitiful in its disoriented vulnerability. Katy Grannan’s working method is to seek out portrait subjects through laconic want ads in (mostly) small-town newspapers. The photographer manipulates the space and the lighting, but the sitters choose how and where they want to be portrayed. Occasionally, she photographs the same person over time, but many of her portraits are “one-shots” of cooperative strangers. These choices result in a stylized profundity, somewhere between a pose and a discovery. The resultant pictures are an unusual form of collaboration, in which the camera simultaneously peels and cocoons Grannan’s sitters, revealing the transparency and opacity of the individual persona. The viewer is left to wonder not only about the enigma of human identity, but about the impulse that drives people to reveal (or at least present) themselves to a stranger, to undress themselves with our minds, and about our need to fulfill our part of the bargain by looking. This work is also an uncomfortable look at how the desperate desire to be acknowledged, visible in many areas of contemporary culture, makes for a sort of visceral, corporal democracy: we all own a body, and it can signal our distinctiveness even when other means of making ourselves heard seem to be out of reach. Somewhere beyond issues of authenticity, anonymity, ambition and anomie, Grannan seems to be posing the question: what are the basic foundation stones of our identity, and who can know us? And when they know us, what do they know? - PHIL HARRIS Read Publisher's Description.

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