Los Angeles

Zoe Crosher with Leslie Grant, Cindy Shermanesque (But She’s the Real Thing) (detail), 2005, 12 light-jet prints mounted on Plexiglas, dimensions variable.

Zoe Crosher with Leslie Grant, Cindy Shermanesque (But She’s the Real Thing) (detail), 2005, 12 light-jet prints mounted on Plexiglas, dimensions variable.

Zoe Crosher

Charlie James Gallery

Zoe Crosher with Leslie Grant, Cindy Shermanesque (But She’s the Real Thing) (detail), 2005, 12 light-jet prints mounted on Plexiglas, dimensions variable.

The suggestive title of Zoe Crosher’s recent exhibition, “For UR Eyes Only—the Unveiling of Michelle duBois,” might have been lifted from a mass-market paperback at the airport bookstore. Appropriately enough, a flight attendant is what duBois (one among a handful of aliases used by the stated subject of this show) aspired to be. Through the evidence on display here—costume changes, pseudonyms, mysterious sugar daddies—in a variety of photographic formats, we also learn that she freelanced turning tricks. And though plenty about this character remains unknown, there is little question her most devoted relationship was to the camera.

DuBois, in all these guises, occupies the frame throughout Crosher’s project, which began materializing in 2004 after the artist allegedly received an archival trove of her subject’s snapshots from the 1970s and ’80s. The ensuing six-year-long “unveiling” of Michelle duBois has been a striptease in slow motion. The inheritance of a private photographic archive is either a remarkable gift or a heavy burden—if not both, in this case, given the salacious nature of the images in question. Fittingly, Crosher employs a variety of tactics in the act of their release.

At times, in an exhibition that spanned multiple LA spaces (which, beyond Charlie James Gallery, included Emma Gray’s EGHQ gallery, the 2010 California Biennial at the Orange County Museum of Art, and the artist-run venue Dan Graham), Crosher seemed to disappear as she straightforwardly presented unique C-prints “as is”—for instance, an unfocused image of a woman, presumably duBois, standing in front of a temple (Blurry in Asia, 2010). More often, Crosher rephotographs duBois’s originals, typically making them larger and/or arranging them in groups, including (at Charlie James Gallery) a digital “slideshow,” Last Four Days and Nights in Tokyo, 2010. Elsewhere Crosher exerts her own authorial hand more aggressively—for example, altering a series of Polaroids by obscuring with black marker the flesh of duBois’s male suitors, many of them enlisted soldiers. (That is, unless duBois voided these men out before the pictures reached the artist.) In an example Crosher tellingly titles One of the Only Images from the Archive with Her Eyes Closed, 2008, the deleted man commingles with the photograph’s inky background, leaving duBois alone in the camera’s harsh flash.

This fluid shift between approaches surely parallels the unfixed identity of a subject who also answers to “Kathy,” “Alice Johnson,” and “Cricket.” And, as a number of critics have already noted, such multiplicity implicates Crosher, who, across her practice, knowingly engages divergent photographic and artistic lineages, from the rephotography of Richard Prince and Sherrie Levine to the persona play of Cindy Sherman (whose series “Untitled Film Stills,” 1977–80, happens to coincide rather neatly with duBois’s role-playing). Alluding to these histories, Crosher frequently foregrounds the archive itself—say, photographing the backs of these inherited images, often abraded (presumably when removed from an album), and often inscribed with duBois’s notes.

Ultimately, the Michelle duBois project raises significant questions about gender, presentation, and representation that are not fully answered—and perhaps are not answerable. Is duBois exploring the then-nascent implications of women’s lib or regressively practicing the “world’s oldest profession”? Is she a sympathetic character or a duplicitous opportunist? Crosher, and her role in this unveiling, is as much the subject of this body of work as duBois. The former’s approach to the latter is hardly cold or scientific; in fact, she tends toward playfulness and visual humor. She reserves judgment. And, in giving us TMI about Michelle duBois, she also reveals that in our tell-all culture, there is always so much more that a picture, or even a slew of them, will never be able to show us.

Michael Ned Holte