San Francisco

Judith Golden

Quay Gallery

Judith Golden’s most recent work, the “Portraits of Women” series, is a departure from the mixed-media, pop-magazine, self-portrait fantasies the photographer produced in the mid-’70s. This series is comprised of Cibachrome prints, ranging in size from 16-by-20 inches to 30-by-40 inches, to which color dyes have been selectively applied. Golden photographs her subjects in a studio setting against backgrounds of brightly colored satin swatches; the women are pictured from the waist up, with Sanderesque solemnity. Costumes, combinations of the subject’s own attire and the studio inventory, run to the exotic: feather boas, gardenias, furs, sequined caps, and other thrift-shop paraphernalia. The hand-applied dyes—on the lips and fingernails—intensify the luridness of the settings and of the dress.

These pictures give no clues as to what roles the subjects play in life, nor do they impart much sense of psychological or iconographic reference—as do, say, many of Judy Dater’s early-’70s portraits. Instead, Golden’s women are clearly acting—fantasizing, to be exact—and what they cultivate is not a concrete role, but an attitude. The most successful pictures nevertheless suggest that the acquired illusion has some remote relationship to mundane reality: a punk-styled woman playing with her ready-to-spring calico cat in Karen and Frank and the naturally elegant sitters in Susan and Moholy-Nagy are among the more potent subjects.

Stylistically Golden draws from two sources: the deliberately decadent Neue Sachlichkeit portraits of Christian Schad, and the blatantly dramatic strategies of mass-media advertising. How conscious the photographer is of the latter is questionable, but a photograph such as Susan and Moholy-Nagy takes on a faint aura of satire through its resemblance to such advertising. In her earlier work, Golden maintained complete control; here, the photographer is dependent upon her subject’s ability to play the chosen role. Two of the pictures, portraits of older women, don’t work—precisely because the women aren’t acting anything out.

Most of the pictures hold the viewer’s attention, and communicate—in varying degrees—attitudes of strength, vampiness, kinkiness, brittleness, or beauty. Under utterly invulnerable facades, the common denominator of these women is control; they all have it, and the image they project to the viewer is that they aren’t afraid to use it.

Hal Fischer