HAMBURG.- Anthea Behms new work utilizes the page, the table, the wall, the gallery, and the chemical photographic print as grounds to explore intersections between her experience as a contemporary artist and the charged dynamics that inflect the canonical photographs that Edward Weston took of Charis Wilson in the 1930s. Through appropriating some of the pictures Weston made of Charis (his lover, wife, and muse) as well as Wilsons autobiography, bits of correspondence, and other contextual borrows, Behm mines the layers of the relations that brought these historical pictures into being. In doing so, she is using the contemporary lens to draw attention to considerations of power, abuse and harassment often papered over in the standard histories of photography.
Behm has decided on the analogue darkrooms narrow parameter to make this work. Her pictures, all hand processed analogue silver gelatin printsmade with the aid of physical masks and a ceiling-mounted enlargerutilize, and in fact expand, the stingy register of the traditional black and white darkroom. They achieve a surprising range of pinks in her black and white prints through subtle manipulation of photographys standard linear procedures.
Behm uses this as a kind of rhetorical conceit, a pressure system that binds the work, creating a new apparatus out of earlier ones: not only Westons, but also photographys more broadly. But Behms method also enacts a performance of artistic subjectivity; an all or nothing decision-making that speaks to methodologies of impossible care and to precarity; teaching, illness, legal status, etc. In the darkroom everything is about tolerance and threshold: when a piece of paper has been exposed, when that exposure becomes too much and all goes black, when the chemistry has acted, when the light can be let back in. There is no going back, just beginning again. Laboring in the dark, the artist uses her own body to realize the pictures various fleshy opacities blindly, through touch, experience, and memory. Though unlike almost all work that embraces blind process as its mode, Behms work attempts to describe not only her making (think action painting) but also a specific picturea collection of relationships beyond the marks of process. It is a ritual, a choreographed routine that becomes visible as a picture.
As viewers we are left with the material output of Behms process and simultaneously with the material of Chariss relationship to Westonthe gallery feels almost like a studio with tables strewn and notes on the wall. There is a parity achieved between present and past, and we find Behm exposing the relational complexities of the traumatic scene that also contains the means of empowerment, connection, and recovery.
Lucas Blalock, Brooklyn, NY