New York

Laura Letinsky

Guy McIntyre Gallery

“Couple”: the word carries a certain ambivalence. Deriving from the Latin copula, meaning “bond” or “link,” it suggests two items of the same kind, but also the thing that joins the two. It can be both a noun and a verb, and, as noun, can be followed by either a singular or plural verb—my dictionary offers the cloying example “The couple are spending their honeymoon (or is spending its honeymoon).” Physics deploys the word in a surprisingly apposite way: “a pair of forces of equal magnitude acting in parallel but opposite directions.”

Laura Letinsky’s photographs reveal the intimacy and indeterminacy that attends upon being a couple. We see in her pictures the internal forces at work between two people: those that draw them together, those that keep them coupled, and those that may drive them apart. Focusing on youngish, straight couples at home, Letinsky’s pictures attend to the gentle oddity of the quotidian domestic setup. The spectrum of emotions on view suggests neither urgent, passionate need nor desexualized rote, but something in between, familiar and yet opaque, even (perhaps especially) to its participants.

The subjects pictured don’t have their guard up, as in the posed candids favored by wedding photographers, but there’s no pretense in these calculated scenarios of fly-on-the-wall ethnography, either. (Five of the portraits, in fact, are of the couple Laura and Eric.) Some of the images seem wistful, others almost lecherous. Letinsky positions the shots somewhere between mannerist painting and nouvelle vague cinematography, so that the pair subject to her gaze discloses through frozen gesture something about itself/themselves, and, perhaps, about our desire to witness their interaction. Three untitled compositions of the couple Rita and Blair staging acts of stylized intimacy reveal the overladen affect on both sides of the hinge separating viewer and viewed: they want “love” to infuse all their gestures, and we want to see “love” performed.

In an adjacent room, Letinsky showed a small suite of still lifes exploring the aftermath of meals: fat-streaked knives, wine glasses with greasy fingerprints, a wasp hovering over half-eaten apples. These photos seemed to engage in a dialogue with the other series—as if the absent couples had finished these meals and were now off in other rooms, coupling. The photographs, which Letinsky shot in a dilapidated villa in eastern Berlin, appear to suggest some congruence between the everyday leftover and the historically obsolescent. If these works are any indication, this project will extend and enrich Letinsky’s sensitive inquiry into the complex arena of the domestic.

Nico Israel