Review: The Petal Project by Tal Shpantzer

Photographing women is fraught. Taking pictures of women immediately ventures success or failure in terms of the ability to retrieve the image of woman – any image of the woman, any woman, every woman, women... – from the coded manipulations of what stands for beauty and belonging, against the creation of singularity and individuation. In Shpantzer's Petal Project, each woman is marked by the presence of a flower's petal, bud or blossom covering the woman's mouth. This element provides the visual echo uniting the series without dictating any single question or prerogative.

Some of the portraits present an easy fit: as if the petal were a favorite flavor, a selected rouging or beguiling accessory. Other images poise on the edge of inescapable historicism: where the mouths of women are never neutral, single or simple, where covering invokes silencing or censorship, and the beauty of the flower-addition courses the continuum: conscious departure, frustrated coding, uneasy glorification, contentious complicity. In other words, not all of the images succeed, or succeed equally, at distancing us as viewers from seeing what we have mostly likely and most often 'seen' before – the staged and un-innocent serializing of women and the sexualizing of anything that involves us.

Fortunately and strategically, the variation of faces, features, styles, angles and personal elements keeps the series grounded in exploration and vibrancy. Different postures individuate – even as the flowered mouth of each portrait builds the theme of the project. The women of these images are not reduced to one version, style or statement. Beauty emerges in the variations of the more subtle, observable elements: eyes, bones, brows bangs, freckles..... It also appears in the stark willfulness of those 'sitting.' There are no wall flowers in this project, no shrinking violets, or ambivalent participants. The series plays the tension: female, floral, futurity... before capturing the irreducible certitude of women choosing to... and ultimately, the beauty of the gaze not just returned but active and attuned, self-aware and integrated.

Artist Bio: Ashkan Sahihi, photographer

Ashkan Sahihi
Agent: Ivy Bernhard
Author: Tracy Ann Essoglou

A freelance photographer, Ashkan Sahihi’s work focuses exclusively on portraiture and narrative photojournalism. Born in Tehran, Iran in 1963, he spent his youth and early adulthood in West Germany. Overwhelmed by the preponderance of writers in his family, Ashkan saw photography as an opportunity to describe and tell stories in a different way, using a different language; not Farsi, his first language, and not German, his first adopted language. Photography presented itself as a new medium; one that was both accessible and international.

Photographing rock and pop music figures, success with his first subjects led to more intimate assignments with authors. As a professional photographer, Sahihi worked exclusively for SURHKAMP, one of Germany’s most renown publishing houses. During this period Sahihi’s work appeared in Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung, Frankfurter Rundschau, Tempo, Mid, Auftritt.

The move to the United States in 1987 grew out of both a professional desire for new and more challenging opportunities and a need for change in cultural landscape. Photographing for Zeit-Magazin, Sueddeutsche Zeitung Magazin, Stern, Der Spiegel,, in Germany and Vanity Fair, Spin, Entertainment Weekly, Mademoiselle, here in the U.S., Sahihi has again concentrated on portraiture and narrative photojournalism, while dramatically expanding the range of cultural personalities.

Most recently, Fromm International published Pictures and Their Stories. This collection of Sahihi’s work features fifty known and lesser-known cultural figures. Each portrait is supplemented by additional photographs from the shooting sessions and more strikingly, by narrative passages written by the photographer about his personal encounters with each subject. Pictures and Their Stories is currently being reviewed by several popular and trade magazines. His textual commentaries have elicited much interest resulting in several written assignments, which are soon to be published.  


Exhibition Statement: "In Your Face: Politics of the Body and Personal Knowledge"

March 27 - April 22 1992
A/C Project Room, 580 Broadway, N.Y.C.

Exhibition Text: Tracy Ann Essoglou, 3/6/92: NYC.

"In your face: politics of the body and personal knowledge" is a testimony to 'knowing' which is politically and sensually informed; contained by both body and mind --significant for the duality of its existence as both presence and absence. Historically, such knowing has been relegated and regulated as 'intuition'. Women's work in particular, has been contained, discouraged and negated, under the rubric of the personal. Information and representation not in the service of the denial of this arena is often outcast. Personal knowledge is thus forbidden. As an overarching condition, forbiddenness serves as a precondition to self-censorship. It is an omnipresent state wherein certain aspects of knowing and being are evacuated a priori. The concept of self-censorship locates censorship within the immediate realm of individual awareness without addressing social, and thus political, mechanisms of control: humiliation and fear threaten the development of personal knowledge; silencing prohibits its accumulation both as personal and cultural history.

The works selected for this exhibition suggest a continuum of personal knowledge; from actualized and represented art, to the unavailable, as yet unknowable- an art already (self)censored. The integrity of these works is the self-conscious effort to understand the body as an implicit site of knowledge and political expression. "In your face: politics of the body and personal knowledge" is an to attempt underscore the significance of one's own body in the formulation of personal knowledge and critical action.

Artists: Janine Antoni, Louise Bourgeois, Suzanne Coffey, Mary Beth Edelson, Tracy Ann Essoglou, Deborah Kass, Kazuko, Chris Lidrbauch, Ana Mendieta, Kiki Smith. Performance by Dana Bryant. Produced by Andrea Most.

Curators: Tracy Ann Essoglou, Mary Beth Edelson.

Subsequent Exhibition: Cortlandt Jessup Gallery, Provincetown, MA. Summer 1992.