A Piece of Work
Denise Prince Martin's "Women"
"Women"color photographs by Denise Prince Martin
in "Eclectic Gathering," through Aug. 28 at the Gallery at Guadalupe Arts
She stands alone in a field, her pale flesh and rosy silk gown contrasting sharply to the dry, rough weeds surrounding her. Her isolation in such a vast expanse of nature combined with the smoothness of the fabric, so radiant in the light as to be almost aglow, makes this woman appear supernatural -- a goddess of the harvest come to Earth to bless the land.
Paper Corsage, Tumbleweed is nothing if not a lush portrait. Photographer Denise Prince Martin captures the color, luster, and texture of every element -- skin, sky, brush, gown -- with uncanny crispness. And yet part of what draws you to keep looking at the photograph (and seeing more in it) are the elements she chooses and the way she sets them in relation to each other: silk against weeds, sky against land, human against field. Each object's natural qualities are heightened by its proximity to something so different, such that you feel you are seeing that object's essence.
This richness of contrasts feeds the other images in Prince Martin's "Women" series, also on display in the exhibit "Eclectic Gathering." Each features a lone female subject dressed in an antique gown, photographed in a setting that allows for a rich variety of texture and hue: a swamp, a seashore, a lumberyard, an old grocery with wooden floors and shelves. You can get lost in the play of elements off each other; in he loves me not, the luxuriant juxtaposition of sapphire-blue waves against the subject's salmon chiffon gown is so arresting, you might miss the hundreds of magnolia petals heaped at her bare feet. In Pink Umbrella, Dunes, the bare feet resting in sensuous ripples of sand is hypnotic enough that it keeps you from gazing up at the subject's face, with her intent eyes and smirk.
And you wouldn't want to miss that, for in these images, the expressions of the women add a vital element to these lush portraits: humanity. These are not goddesses after all, but women, women aware of their unusual circumstances, women with stories to tell. In a smirk one may be acknowledging the absurdity of carrying an umbrella in a desert; in a distracted look, another may be revealing how little interest she has in fetching a gallon of lemonade from the grocery while attired for a ball. Whatever it is, these are women whose expressions suggest lives that are as colorful and textured as their gowns and settings. They are women worth getting to know.