New York

Lynne Augeri

Lynne Augeri’s photographic self-portraits express a singular take on post-Modern female role-playing by pumping up the overtly sexual end of the esthetic-erotic continuum. Augeri has apparently compared her darkroom manipulation of her images to “African skin-decorating rituals,” but these over-sized works allude more obviously to the early photographic studies of female nudes posed like classical sculptures. Just as those pictures blurred the distinction between the artistic and the pornographic, so Augeri’s self-portraits occupy an ambiguous zone between “positive” sexual bravado and “perverse” exhibitionism, confidently laying out the contradictions between the two. These photographs are indeed performances, heavily loaded gestures which beef up their surface sexual charge with an intense, inwardly focused gaze. Augeri quotes both the directness and the innocence which, to our eyes, characterize 19th-century photographic nudes, combines them with some of the hothouse voyeuristic effects of modern pornography, and filters all through retro style and the mechanical manipulation of the print. These are hot shots which keep their cool.

Augeri presents her own body as a retro style in itself: she comes on like a ’50s cinema icon, Kim Novak trying on the poses of fin de siècle French postcards, equal parts sex and purity. And her iconic fille de joie sports clichéd pornographic trappings—long black gloves, black stockings, black mules, and a sheer black scarf. In some images these props obscure Augeri’s limbs, suggesting an association with those armless classical Venuses, and the reference to statuary is also underlined by occasional double exposures that impart a marbleized texture to Augeri’s skin. Classical poses reinforce the work’s connection with the combining of antique models and photographic “reality” in the early nude studies, while other poses are more overtly sexual, alluding to bondage activity; in these more violent images the stains left by Augeri’s gambits with developing chemicals, which contribute to a general tone of metaphorical and literal “dirtiness,” take on another quality, that of dried blood, as if these liquid splatters and splotches recorded not only an intervention in the photographic process but some kind of physical assault.

Augeri’s fatale character concedes nothing to victimization, however. Rather, she confronts voyeurism head-on, both in herself and in the eye of the viewer. The psychosexual provocation in these photographs is laid out in terms that are in one sense bluntly clear, and in another as opaque as the dense prints themselves, with their muddy blacks, developer stains, unfinished look, and multiple exposures. Like ideal images of the erotic, they show a lot but reveal little: fantasy is all. Augeri’s iconic feminine enigma presents its riddling contradictions in all-too-familiar yet finally unknowable regions of the self. Now that’s a pose.

John Howell