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The Photographic Work of Clara Gutsche, Adrian Piper and Allyson Clay
Gutsche, Piper and Clay have spent their careers engaged in this critical discourse. Each have created numerous bodies of work that focus on core issues of identity,and have managed to address the dilemma of womenís representation with integrity and respect. Piper and Clay work with a variety of media while Gutsche has focused on photography. For this discussion however, I have chosen to examine specific photographic works by these three artists.
As a medium, photography encompasses the duality of art and science. By this I mean that photography has the ability to create a fiction and to document a reality.The publicís ability, however, to decipher the difference between photographic fact and fiction is influenced by its own use of the camera. Snapshots of family rituals and holidays usually do not involve a calculated semiotic construction; they are accepted as simply capturing a real moment. Thus the publicís personal experience with photography interferes with its ability to recognize the constructed ideology within most mass media images. As feminist discourse suggests, the publicís reluctance to question or inability to perceive the constructed ideology allows the status quo to flourish. In their attempt to undermine the influence of mass media and art history, many feminist artists use photography to subvert implied truths to construct and authenticate alternative pictures. Gutsche, Piper and Clay use this strategy in conjunction with portraiture and self-portraiture to give credence to their perspective and to proffer direct alternatives to prevailing mass media perceptions of age, race and gender.
Gutsche acknowledges Documentary photography is a false category.1. In other words, the image is always framed by a series of subjective decisions, beginning with what to photograph, and what information to include or omit to convey meaning based on cultural conventions. Gutscheís Convent Series (1990-96) walks a fine line between sociological documentary and staged realism. Taken over a six-year period with a large format camera, the series contains sixty-five large (up to 71 cm x 91 cm) chromogenic and silver print photographs documenting convent life in twenty-five religious communities in Quebec. Gutsche, an immigrant to Quebec, was motivated by her recognition of the extent to which Catholicism had shaped Quebec society and in particular many of its institutions. Through letters of introduction and personal visits to the convents, Gutsche gained access to these normally closed communities.
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1. Interview with Clara Gutsche, artist, Montreal, QC, 22 January 2003.