New York

Sam Samore

Thomas Nordanstad Gallery

Fashion magazines are notorious breeding grounds for fantasy, often of the erotic sort. While it’s unclear whether Sam Samore hopes to evoke this kind of eroticism in his recent series of photographs, this much seems certain: he digs female models. Though Samore’s horizontally oriented series of large black and white prints is entitled “Allegories of Beauty (Incomplete),” 1995, it is difficult to locate anything here beyond the run-of-the-mill permutations of beauty that can be found in any glossy. Perhaps this is the point: maybe Samore just wants to make art that looks and acts like fashion photography—or vice versa.

Evoking the film still (the artist’s trademark style, and also a device used occasionally by fashion mags), these casual yet elegantly cropped “snapshots” of Glam Girls from shoulders and neck on up are blown up and judiciously framed, suggesting the presence of a camera that has strayed into—or is slumming around—behind the scenes as the talent ready themselves for a turn on the catwalk. It’s like a film noir version of Ready to Wear, 1994, in which the models are of the vampish, femme-fatale variety. It might be fitting to relate Samore’s coyly mystifying impulses to a cinema verité sensibility: even as he flirts with the documentary, the reality Samore opts for is the one constituted by libidinous desire—desire generated, at least in part, by our image world’s promiscuous relationship with Beauty.

While we worry about how images are used to objectify the hearts, minds, and bodies of beautiful women and men, or fret about our voyeuristic impulses, how do we get beyond libido? On second thought, who wants to? Samore certainly doesn’t, and this at least should be applauded. Though by directing his private eye at female models he may get into hot water with the same people who accuse the fashion industry of exploitation, in fact, he’s just reminding us of something we should already recognize: that voyeurism, libido, and exploitative sexual objectification are not necessarily the same things.

In the past, Samore hired photographers to follow subjects and snap their pictures, producing grainy-to-blurry images that suggested nefarious acts of surveillance taken to a nominally poetic level, and that raised those age-old questions of authorship, truth, and authenticity. Using photos of “anonymous” individuals as indiscriminate clues, Samore constructed the appearance of a mystery, but there was really no mystery there—nothing to unscramble. Likewise, “Allegories of Beauty (Incomplete)” offers the affect of enigma—not only the enigma of whoever took these pictures but of exactly what it is we’re looking at. Perhaps the space of each picture has been designed to capture the dramatics of a day-to-day environment, one that has already been largely theatricalized. Pictorial fields are framed by headshots of two models, suggesting cursory interactions. In a couple of pieces, it’s not entirely clear whether we are seeing the mirror image of a single woman, and in at least one other work, two images seem to have been seamlessly montaged. While Samore’s models may not be putting on poses (perhaps they’re pre- or post-pose), these professional women are of course continuously aware that the camera is mapping them as subjects and objects. They appear to be participating in their own surveillance, so to speak, which might be construed either as a “humanizing” gesture on Samore’s part or as innocuous opportunism from another voyeuristic fan of allure.

Joshua Decter