New York

Anthony Hernandez

Carter Burden Gallery

In his newest work, Anthony Hernandez reconciles photojournalism and so-called street photography, the genre of art photography that since emerging in the ’30s has numbered among its practitioners Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, and Garry Winogrand. By choosing to photograph Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive, Hernandez is able both to document an extreme manifestation of consumer culture, and to find scenes whose significance seems more personal. This juncture of different photographic genres—photojournalism’s implicit attempt at objectivity combined with street photography’s diaristic, interpretive quality—is successful largely because Rodeo Drive, with its expensive stores and flamboyant shoppers, is so inherently theatrical. In Hemandez’s version, Rodeo Drive itself comes across as a kind of store window, with the people who stroll its sidewalks as carefully packaged and as much on display as any of the actual wares offered inside the shops.

Most of the shoppers are women, which adds questions of female self-image and the projection of sexuality to the primary issue of consumption raised by the pictures. In several images, Hernandez makes the connection between these issues explicit. In the exhibition’s opening image, for example, a carefully groomed young woman adjusts her mascara in a store’s brass nameplate. A few pictures suggest a pathos behind the glamorous sheen: in one, a glum-looking older woman sits alone, surrounded by fashionable shoes, in an otherwise empty store. But, for the most part, these people appear to relish their good looks and obvious good fortune, and enjoy being on display. Because of this, they treat the photographer not as an intruder, but simply as further proof of their successful packaging—of their transformation into desirable goods. They pose and strut for the camera; they are on stage and loving it.

These works are about exchanges of several kinds: between consumers and products; between audience (here, the camera) and performers; between the male observer and the women shoppers—several of whom respond to Hernandez’s gaze with seductive poses. Each of these forms of exchange, in turn, is a facet of a more general kind of transaction; Rodeo Drive becomes a theater of taking and offering, of buying and selling.

On still another level, this cycle of exchange takes on Freudian overtones, with Hernandez as a child and the people he photographs as parents. In one, for example, a woman strokes a man’s hair while glancing slyly at Hernandez out of the corner of her eye; an older woman next to her—apparently her mother, equally well dressed but desiccated—glares at the camera with open suspicion. Hernandez has brought a sharp eye and an emotional receptivity to this unlikely location, and as a result, his pictures raise, with striking directness, questions about consumption, representation, and sexual exchange—and furthermore suggest that all of these are implicit in the act of making a photograph.

Charles Hagen