Banner Image is Anonymous, Los Angeles, 2008/printed 2009
by Katy Grannan
There has been much chat about celebrity culture and the museums of late but a different, more critical, take on that equation is on view at LACMA in The Sun and Other Stars: Katy Grannan and Charlie White. The title loosely refers to the noir writings of Nathaniel West and both photographers shine a spotlight on aspirations to celebrity or at least notoriety. Since 2008, Grannan has photographed an array of characters on the streets of San Francisco or Los Angeles. Each is shown in harsh sunlight against a white stucco wall and each is reduced in name to Anonymous. The wrinkled woman with her make-up askew, the aging shirtless dude with his chest tattooed in an epithet against the LAPD while holding a pair of bunnies, the Marilyn Monroe wanna-be, the man in a blond pony-tail wearing woman’s make-up, these may be hustlers, losers, dreamers and the walking wounded but they are clearly striving for something greater than mere survival. Aesthetically, the photographs recall the freakish work of Diane Arbus or the gritty pictures of the American West taken by Richard Avedon. Those were taken in black and white. Searing color amps up the wattage of Grannan’s photographs and she seems to capture her eccentric subjects as they want to be seen, ready for their close-ups. The show also includes her new black and white three-channel video “The Believers.”
A much cooler, more restrained approach comes from Charlie White who put out a casting call for white, blond California girls between the ages of 13 and 16. The results, portraits of individuals, are numbingly similar down to the lack of expression in the pale eyes. White has included a selection of magazines, such as Glamour, Lucky and Seventeen, which have covers featuring slightly older versions of these California teens and the comparisons are frightening. Right there, you see how conformity is determined by market forces and how readily it is embraced.
In an adjacent gallery, a show called Figure And Form, includes photographs recently acquired by the museum. One of many highlights is a series by Zoe Crosher chronicling the actual celebrity obsession of Michelle DuBois, a call girl/flight attendant who had herself photographed in glamorous poses and identities for some 30 years. The photographs on view were taken from when DuBois was in her 20s to her 50s, in a bubble bath, dressed as Mae West, and in a convertible with wavy blonde hair. Crosher uses DuBois’s own actual photographs and documents and re-photographed them to provide a new context and an extra layer of mystery around this mysterious woman who liked to present herself as a sexy somebody other than herself.
The shows were organized by the museum’s photography curator Britt Salvesen and are on view through October 14. For more information, go to LACMA.org.