Critics’ Picks

Vee Speers, Untitled #37, 2008, color photo, 36 x 29".


Vee Speers

Jackson Fine Art
3115 E. Shadowlawn Avenue
February 13–March 28

Vee Speers’s “The Birthday Party” is not your typical cake-and-candle celebration. The children depicted are dressed in costumes—bird wings, a monkey mask, a princess dress, a gladiator’s helmet—but rather than creating a festive air, the subjects’ appearances evoke an ominous coterie. The guests at this party seem near the end of childhood and headed for lives not found in the rosy picture books of youth.

Unnatural costumes and props fuel often-sinister implications. A young girl in a beautiful white lace dress serenely grasps a dead rabbit in one hand. A shirtless boy in a helmet is poised with a machine gun and pistols tucked into the waist and pockets of his pants. Another girl faces away from the camera, holding a pair of open scissors just below her long, braided hair.

The strength of these pictures lies in their ambiguity, partly supplied by the children who, between the ages of seven and ten, have body shapes and facial features that teeter between youth and adulthood. The remaining enigma is provided by Speers, a Paris-based former fashion photographer who, with evocative clothing, fantastic hairstyles, and emotionally charged objects, creates each macabre character.

By contrast, the staging of the twenty-one images is quite minimal. Each frame contains either one or two children posed in front of the same textured stucco wall. In most instances, the subjects stare directly at the camera, devoid of facial expressions. Each image is shot in black-and-white, though in many instances Speers later added color digitally, giving the pieces the effect of hand tinting. The compositional simplicity only accentuates the realization that viewers are responsible for completing the stories, and whatever dark predictions they might have about these children’s futures are of the audience’s own design.