The CU Art Museum is a relatively unknown area on campus. If you haven’t explored it yet, here is your reason to.
There was an intensity that charged the air when I explored “Primal Seen,” an exhibit of CU photography that focuses on women that has been on display since Sept. 7. I felt frustrated and confused, but after I came to understand the themes in the exhibit, I enjoyed it.
Melinda Barlow, associate professor in of film, and Lisa Tamiris Becker, director of the CU Art Museum, worked together on the exhibit. Both women were highly motivated and interested in the subject. While Barlow is modest and credits much of the work to Becker, they both agree they were motivated by each other to explore how women and people were displayed in cinematography and photography. The two also collaborated with CU’s Special Collections librarian, Amanda Brown, who they said was very helpful on the photograph’s history.
Barlow described viewers’ interaction with the photos as a psychoanalytical phenomenon. The phrase, “primal seen” is a play on the phrase “primal scene,” which is used to describe the first time a child witnesses a sexual act between parents. In the gallery’s case, however, it is a scene driven by desire between the subject and the photographer, she said.
The concept of the “primal scene” included some older photos. The charged encounter between photographic subject and photographic object occurs in a moment of time. Older photographs dated back to the 1800s, when images started to move, becoming pieces of cinematography. Professor Barlow described the era as, “its own, charged moment because of the creation of optical toys that put images in increasingly rapid succession so that we get closer to the illusion of movement in photographs.”
Death is also a prominent component of the exhibit. One series of photos, “Small Deaths,” shows a portrait of a cardinal whose feathers are a crimson and has eyes that shine like beads under bright light. It stared at me with a bold, unwavering gaze. Yet, the creature portrayed in this portrait is dead. Kate Breakey, the creator of this piece, was said to have found this bird dead and created this painting from its image. In this portrait, the cardinal is brought back to life.
The images I saw on the wall alluded to various themes, including iconic female beauty. Philippe Halsman’s “Marilyn Monroe with Barbells” is an embodiment of female strength and American pride, unlike the previous image, “Marilyn Entering Closet,” which is a particularly delicate image. Monroe appears as an object of affection throughout. Her skin is luminescent and her figure shows the full fruits of womanhood. Yet, Monroe is hiding her face. Her timidity makes her an object rather than a subject.
On the other hand, Judy Dater’s “Twinka” wears her sheer clothes with a ravenous gaze. She looks at me and evokes feelings of discomfort and fear. Surrounded by wild branches, the woman in this photo gave me a feeling of freedom. Though this image is black and white, the woman’s expression creates a colorful composition that forces me to see her as the subject, rather than an object. She is not a prop in the image to be admired, but a force to be reckoned with.
Although I was initially daunted by the overlapping themes of this exhibit, I left with a certain confidence. I had interacted with photography in a way I never understood before. I left asking myself question evoked by the images of this exhibit, my curiosity was aroused and my appetite for a challenge was satisfied.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Anna Cook at Anna.email@example.com.
- Photography exhibit: Primal Seen
- Photos: Boulder Photography Club
- Photos: Boulder Photography Club
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