Laura Letinsky. Likeness

30 April - 30 May 2009

Laura Letinsky is one of the most important North American artists working in photography today. Since 1986 Letinsky's work has been engaged with exploring the domestic space; first through documenting the evolution and enactment of romantic love, and more recently eschewing the human subjects altogether to create still life compositions including remnants of everyday social and domestic life. As Letinsky has stated:

I started being more interested in the stuff around the people and how that stuff was a stand-in - metaphorically, narratively and materially - for the way people seek satisfaction through things. 

Laura Letinsky - Likeness brings together twenty of Letinsky's most recent elegiac photographs of detritus on a table-top, which are both elegantly prosaic and art historically resonant in their reference to Dutch vanitas still life painting of the Seventeenth Century. This dialogue with painting is an important aspect. As the artist has explained: 

"It's so important for me that the photographs hover between being painterly - in the sense of light, colour, composition and plasticity - and being insistently photographic. They're photographs on photographic paper; they're made with the camera, they aren't digital effects. I'm really interested in the plasticity of photography and the way one reads it - like, 'How can that be possible? That must be digital!' But no, it's not digital. Photography is like painting; it's an incredibly plastic medium." 
Ranging from domestic setting to studio staging, Letinsky's still lifes are both everyday and infused with significance. Fruit that is ripe, overripe or already consumed; flowers in full bloom or poetic decay; emptied gift boxes and glasses suggesting the meal has already been shared and the party has finished. As Letinsky has stated:

I'm interested in what resists, in remnants, in what gets left over. In a conceptual way, everything we have is left over because everything has been handed down to us. So what do you make with leftovers? That's all anyone ever had. Da Vinci only had leftovers; the modernists only had leftovers. Everything they do and know and see and think is predicated upon what preceded it.
Letinsky's choice of objects is compelling for the potential of both implicit narrative and the creation of visually challenging compositions. Lyrical and formal, the subjects are dissolved by varied colours of light, often set off against white walls and tablecloths whose angled shadows and subtle textures add a further dimension to Letinsky's unusual perspectival presentation. A glass perched precariously by the edge of a tabletop, fruit hovering above its expected visual plane or a wilted flower gazing at its younger self in the trompe l'oeil of a tissue box; the vectors of Letinsky's composition defy gravity, definitive narrative and even the arresting temporality of photography itself. 

Laura Letinsky is a Professor and Chair at the University of Chicago, Department of Visual Arts. Institutional exhibitions of her work include Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, Ottawa; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Nederlands Foto Instituut, Rotterdam; Winnipeg Art Gallery, Manitoba and The Renaissance Society, Chicago. Collections include the Art Institute of Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Museum of Fine Art, Houston; and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Publications include Art Photography Now, Aperture, 2005, Hardly More Than Ever, The Renaissance Society, 2004, Eating Architecture, MIT Press, 2004, Blink, Phaidon Press, 2002, and Venus Inferred, University of Chicago Press, 2000.