Being a woman by society’s standards means presenting a face of beauty to the world, one brushed with makeup and a smile. It means keeping up with fashion, spraying perfume to smell like sweetness, staying slim, keeping her inside processes discrete, being a wife, caring for kids, cooking and cleaning, all while holding down a job to support the family. But being a woman carries much more than this. Being a woman truly means strength, having confidence in her own skin. In “Photographing the Female,” on view at Beacon Gallery through June 2, the photographs curated by Danish photographer and writer, Sarah Høilund, show how different cultures mold a woman in various ways. But, there is an underlying feeling of unity, a kind of cosmic connection, a harmony between all of the women in focus.
“It’s been an exceptional experience just putting the show together from the point of view as a woman,” said Beacon Gallery owner Christine O’Donnell. “To have this experience really brought me to reflect upon my own sense of self.”
When visitors step into the gallery, the first photograph they meet is that of “Sheets” by Birthe Piontek. It is difficult to ignore the contrast in this image with the shadowy background and white sheets covering all nine women whose heads only peek out to rest on one another’s shoulder. They appear sleeping or floating as the sheets cover their feet, creating a dream-like, almost disturbing, mood. The image elicits Pictorialism themes of the later 19th- and early 20th-century-like haze, women in white dresses and orbs, while showing a sense of connection or intimacy.
Italian Vogue photographer Alexandra Von Fuerst’s “Birth of a Divinity. Girls are Made of Scorpions” presents a haunting woman clothed in white linen, cinching a garter belt around her waist, a piece of sensual lingerie, while a red, funnel-shaped lamp stands in front of her. An egg in a nest of greenery rests on the ground beside her, illuminated by the red light. The scorpion title elicits a symbol of rebirth, fertility and passion, where the eye makeup conjures an image of ancient Egypt.
Visitors also are invited to view a piece of Russian culture in Alena Zhandarova’s “City of Brides” collection that captures modern-day Ivanovo, an old factory town in the 19th century where girls found work. The image of hair runs through each photograph as a feminine icon, where the girls challenge a sense of confinement in domestic spaces. In one piece, a girl hides half of her face, clutching a tight braid. Her somber expression aligns with the shadows in the background, but she remains in the light.