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With about 470 pages of photographs and 63 of text, this is a fat book of art photography. It surveys Sieverding's work from 1969 to 1974; all the images are of faces, most of them close up, and most of them of her. The photographs should not be looked at individually, but members of the series they are part of. In some she is wearing minimal make up, in others she is heavily made up, and in some she is wearing gold paint on her face. Other pictures, like the cover image, are artificially distorted, in red hues, or in black and white, sometimes with inverted brightness. Sometimes the photos are in focus, and other times they are blurred or out of focus. Sometimes there are markings on the pictures. In the Motokamera I-VIII series from 1973-4 she appears with a man, and they both wear make up and dresses. Simiarly, the Transformer series from the same time period shows Sieverding looking more androgynous, and her face is sometimes combined with that of a man in a double exposure, or at least, so it seems. So in significant portions of her work she is exploring gender and the photographic gaze. While she is not dressed up, there is a sense of performance in many of these pictures, which resonates with the work of Cindy Sherman.
The book has ten essays and interviews on the work of Sieverding which suggests that her work has its roots in theory, and places her in a political context. In one interview, she says "My interest is the visually and conceptually expanded use of collective 'testimony' and 'individuation' in terms of evolutionary ideation and sciences. I appreciated the moment of the 'pictorial turn' in the techniques of media and visual culture. The face or interface is the pictorial interdisciplinary projection line of any visual idea and materialization, model and fiction, signature and analysis, interaction of image production and viewing construction." That may be so, but it is hard to get directly from Sieverding's work. The original works are often large, being 2 or 3 meters wide, or more, and so a series can take up a whole room. I regret not seeing the collection when it was at PS1 Moma in 2006, because it is clear that the emotional impact of these images in full scale will be far greater than seeing them in a book. Nevertheless, Close Up will be a useful record of the artist's ground-breaking work during this period.
© 2008 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York
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