Roe Ethridge, Gisele on the Phone, 2013, C-print, 34 7/8 x 45 3/4".

Roe Ethridge, Gisele on the Phone, 2013, C-print, 34 7/8 x 45 3/4".

Roe Ethridge

Capitain Petzel

Roe Ethridge, Gisele on the Phone, 2013, C-print, 34 7/8 x 45 3/4".

Roe Ethridge’s Berlin exhibition “Sacrifice Your Body” overlapped with his identically titled exhibition at Andrew Kreps Gallery in New York, each show comprising a different “edit” of a group of recently produced photographs also found in his book Sacrifice Your Body (2013). This is to say that Ethridge is working with a more or less familiar artistic procedure: the task of editing his own photographic production. Prominent tropes in Ethridge’s current iconography still include his well-known styling of both people and objects as if they were consumer products; thus, several images borrow the high production value of product photography or fashion editorials and evoke a diffuse sense of desire for models and luxury commodities. But the exhibition also included a significant number of less sharp, low-gloss images depicting more haphazard tableaux mainly located outside the photographer’s studio.

This was the case with the thirty-odd photographs he took in his mother’s hometown of Belle Glade, Florida, which make up more than half of his artist’s book, though only three were on display here. Mother-hood was one of the threads that ran throughout the exhibition and explicitly linked some of the images: Maternal figures were a recurring motif, a cultural construct that Ethridge addressed with the same critical acumen with which he has so successfully rendered various outcroppings of the marketing apparatus of consumer culture. Such types helped bind the images into what could be read as an implicit narrative: Thus, if we look past its famous subject, Gisele on the Phone, 2013, might depict a matriarch at home receiving the worrisome news that the family’s Dodge SUV has been driven into the water (Durango in the Canal, Belle Glade, FL, 2011). Similarly, within the context of the exhibition’s imagery, an international French food export can come across as the embodiment of an intimate familial relation (Bonne Maman Jar is, 2013). Of course, any attempt to literalize the images’ interconnections along a concrete storyline amounts to an interpretive stretch rather than the decryption of the meaning hidden in the photographs and their titles. The images are intentionally enigmatic and familiar in the way of cultural icons for exactly that reason.

Complementing this vein of narrative elusiveness, “Sacrifice Your Body” decidedly avoided consistency in terms of subject matter, styling, or image quality—though some works shared iconographic affinities and all of them were medium- to large-scale color C-prints stretching from edge to edge in heavy, off-white wooden frames. Wherever there was some degree of repetition among the images, there was also some difference. The portrait of a model sporting a Proenza Schouler skirt and jacket and posing against a backdrop patterned with footballs was cropped slightly tighter in one of two related images, and the background pattern has been magnified to an even greater degree (Hilary with Footballs and Hilary with Footballs [Big], both 2013). It was almost as if Ethridge were insisting that the superabundance of images constituting our visual culture is unfathomably complex, and that by way of grappling with this manifold, his production is necessarily inconsistent. Still, the edits he delivers consistently amount to shrewd takes on the contemporary visual landscape.

John Beeson