The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

Lower Manhattan WalkAbout

A Wintry Mix

Photo by Barbara Confino . Source: courtesy the artist
Barbara Confino 2015

It was the kind of winter day when the air is crisp with coming snow. And by the time we gathered together in Janet Borden’s gallery, the day had delivered on its promise. It is the third outing of the ICP Gallery Goers group and we are starting with Jan Groover, a photographer famous for her color still lifes. But these are not what we are viewing. On the fastidiously white walls of the gallery are the equally fastidious platinum landscapes Groover took mostly in the 1980’s. She chose the kind of industrial landscapes that have little obvious charm, and through a combination of technical skill and formalist intuition, made them into something captivating. With their endlessly long grey scales these prints are perfect illustrations of the strengths of this particular technique. Contact printed to boot, they are pinpoint sharp, every detail etched as carefully as with a knifepoint.

Photo by Barbara Confino . Source: Barbara Confino
Barbara Confino, "Janet Borden” 2015

Ms. Borden herself was more than amenable to discussing the work, her enthusiasm for her subject both informative and entertaining. By the time we sallied forth into the now quite bountiful snow, we were primed for whatever was to come next.

Photo by Barbara Confino . Source:
Barbara Confino, "Fred and Carol" 2015

Going cross-town to Orchard Street was easy enough on the F train, but trudging through the snow and finding our galleries a bit more difficult. How quickly the streets had turned to white sludge! Poor visibility not withstanding, we persevered until we came to Miguel Abreu, a gallery hosting a handsome three channel video installation called Nature is a Discipline. Attempting to explore the relationship between landscape and technology—a common theme these days––the installation failed to provide new insights into this much-discussed issue; still, the seductive nature of multiple projection gave it a sort of watchable immediacy.

Photo by Barbara Confino . Source:
Barbara Confino, "”Nature is a Discipline”

Miguel Abreu Gallery" 2015

Both the Sasha Wolf and the Foley galleries offered work of interest but it was not until we arrived at Anastasia Photo that we were truly engaged, both as individuals and as a group. Dina Litovsky’s show, Fashion Lust, is a behind-the scenes reportage of various fashion events. Done in a style often seen before, one that emphasizes hard light and awkward moments, they are deliberately unglamorous to the point of caricature, their occupants easy targets for photographic ridicule. While demonstrating an able use of the camera, good timing and clever angles, Litovsky does not show us anything we have not seen in the work of photographers such as William Klein.

In the days that followed our visit a debate on the merits of the work continued full force. Foster admired the honesty with which the photographer exposed the ridiculous aspect of the fashion world. Anna disliked the style but admired the feeling of fun she saw in the photographer’s approach. I, on the other hand, sensed something far darker and more jaded beneath all that.

Photo by Dina Litovsky . Source:
Dina Litovsky, "Untitled from Fashion Lust"

Nowhere is this dark quality more clearly displayed than in the photograph of a group of models standing before a lone man. Shot from below and seen from the waist down as if the women had neither faces nor identities, they are paraded in their stripper garb before a fully dressed man who gazes at them appraisingly, taking his time deciding which girl he likes, which one he will take upstairs. In another, a women in a sheer body suit stands spotlighted, a pair of heavy boots hanging from her crotch, seemingly oblivious to the indignity and the discomfort of it. While men supervise and take photographs, other girls, wearing outfits straight out of S&M literature, have their seams carefully adjusted.

Photo by Dina Litovsky . Source:
Dina Litovsky, "A Model Poses..." 2013

Ultimately what is disturbing both in much of this work and the world it portrays is the overlap between fashion and prostitution. Although technically this is a fashion not a brothel scene, the iconography is virtually identical. What is being sold with such fanfare is sexual display of a particularly low kind. This is not the charming, joyful and voluptuous sex of Marilyn Monroe, for example; these are underfed women wearing uncomfortable clothes standing around awkwardly, looking vulnerable and vaguely embarrassed. The latent violence both Foster and Anna espied in these pictures is not just a product of the harsh lighting and the glare, but of the institutionalized misogyny they celebrate and embrace.

Having had our visual fill we now turned our attention to something more immediately satisfying: food and drink! A brisk round of the neighborhood revealed most places packed with noisy refugees from the storm. But in the end we succeeded in finding shelter and at least some of the amenities that go along with it. Once installed, we happily debated the merits of what we had seen until it was time to go.


Anyone wishing to follow the discussion further please check out our Facebook page where we have posted our first Image Dialogue.

Lower Manhattan WalkAbout

A Wintry Mix
by Barbara Confino

Artist and writer Barbara Confino’s new series, Walkabout: The City As Image, explores urban life as a visual experience. Functioning as both cameraman and editor, the walker sees the physical and human environment as if it were a film in the making with its connections, contradictions, collage-like juxtapositions, and unexpected harmonies

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