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Acting OutReview - Acting Out
Invented Melodrama In Contemporary Photography
by Kathleen A. Edwards
University of Washington Press, 2005
Review by Christian Perring
Jun 24th 2008 (Volume 12, Issue 26)

Cindy Sherman's photographic portraits of herself dressed in a wide variety of guises will be familiar to many, even if they don't know who the artist is or what the aim of the work is.  Since Sherman employs styles from popular culture, her photographs often have a feel of familiarity to them even for those who have never seen them before.  Her work is probably some of the best known in art photography, and probably some of the most immediately interesting and compelling of modern art.  Her echoes of Hollywood film stills, for example, is immediately clear and compelling.  Her work is also mysterious and intriguing: viewers want to figure out what she is up to.  Much of the mystery comes from noticing that she is the subject of nearly all her images, and she dresses up in different ways and places herself in different contexts.  They often look like frames from movies, and so lead the viewer to wonder how they fit into a larger story. 

Nearly all invented melodrama in modern photography is similarly striking and fascinating, and so it is not surprising that so many photographers have put this new genre to good use.  The strength of this book is to bring attention to less well known photographers, and to give an overview of the area.  Although it is short at 62 pages, it collects samples of some important and interesting art photographers.  Aside from Sherman, probably the best known are Philip-Lorca di Corcia, Gregory Crewdson, and Simen Johan.  Other artists include Anna Gaskell, Laura Letinsky, Tom Hunter, Sharon Lockhart, Janaina Tschape, Adi Nes, and Justine Kurland.  For each artist, Edwards gives a short but illuminating discussion of their work.  The introduction to the book is especially helpful: Edwards discusses the role of film stills and early psychiatric photography showing different emotional states of patients, and she points out various themes that run through much of this work.  She also makes useful reference to other writing on this sort of photography.  Acting Out is an excellent introduction to this genre of photography.

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© 2008 Christian Perring

Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.


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