Talk about prescient. When the good folks at Girls' Club gallery opened "Re-Framing the Feminine" last November, little did they know that within months, presidential politics would suddenly live up to the title of their show. I mean, who in her right mind could have predicted that the race to run this country would hinge on reframing family planning and contraception?
To their credit, the organizers of this survey of contemporary photography by women haven't jumped on the bandwagon by rejiggering the tag line for their show. The exhibition still "demonstrates the varied strategies employed by female photographers to frame their experiences using the technology of film photography and digital media."
Compared with the national political dialogue, "Re-Framing the Feminine" is downright subtle. It examines gender roles, among other things, by looking at the ways women use photography to portray their lives — and, by extension, the lives of men. For me, one of the most highly charged images is Kristine Potter's black-and-white shot of a male soldier from West Point peeking through a veil of camouflage mesh, an apt enough metaphor for what it might be like to remain a closeted military man these days.
Most of the nearly four dozen photographs, however, keep the focus on women. A couple of prepubescent girls play dress-up in adult makeup and jewelry. A mother nurses her baby in a hospital bed. A nude little girl toys with one nipple in an image simultaneously innocent and provocative. A woman with a badly dated hairdo cradles a tiny clothed simian in her arms.
This last photo, Woman With Her Baby Monkey, is by the legendary Diane Arbus, who shot it shortly before her suicide in 1971. Other famous women artists are also included here. A close-cropped nude female appears to be checking her body fat in a striking shot by Francesca Woodman, another suicide (in 1981, at age 22) who is currently the subject of a much-talked-about exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
The self-portraiture of Cindy Sherman — now the subject of another controversial career retrospective at New York's Museum of Modern Art — is represented by one of her "untitled film stills" from the late 1960s. The always-interesting Nan Goldin weighs in with a portrait of a pair of drag queens undressing offstage.
One of the most unsettling images is by South Florida's own Colby Katz (a former New Times photographer), known for her fascination with pint-sized beauty queens. Rayne-Lin, Little Miss Firecracker, LA presents us with a blank-faced little girl standing beside a towering trophy nearly twice her height. It could have come straight from that train wreck of a TV show, Toddlers & Tiaras.
Maybe Mitt Romney should pay a visit to Girls' Club on his next swing through the region. It just might help him see that women's experiences are too vast and diverse to be reduced to a sound bite about birth control.