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Robyn Renee Hasty is an artist who is drawn to the challenges presented by obsolete technologies. She is excited by the unpredictability and vulnerability they inspire, and in her current exhibition at Pioneer Works, Z, she presents us with photographs that are complex both in their form and because of the questions they ask.
Using the late-19th century techniques of wet-plate tintype and ambrotype developing, Hasty has shot an extensive series of nude portraits that challenges our notions of gender, identity, and sexuality. The exhibition, titled after the gender-neutral pronoun “ze,” has a powerful and heavy presence in the way the works crystallize the gaze of the sitters through a paradoxically amorphous medium. With expressions ranging from perplexed to seductive to standoffish, the subjects are all seated on the same patterned couch, some sprawled languidly with their legs apart while others curl up on the seat. Yet each sitter infuses the space with a different vibrancy and energy, staring back at you with a similar intensity and sense of confidence as you walk past them, luxuriating in a security of self-identity that is almost enviable.
The juxtaposition of an archaic and often-cumbersome method of photography, with subject matter that is so relevant and pressing to our contemporary context creates a startling union between composition and documentation. It is impossible to look at the images and not imagine that they have been unearthed from a Victorian treasure chest — a fellow visitor was audibly shocked when he heard the photographs had been shot and developed at Pioneer Works over the last year. But there is something fitting in the way the wet-plate method interacts with the nude body and its complexities. Through a process of chemical emulsions, the images have a fluid quality; the edges are often cracking or bleeding. It almost seems like some of the sitters are slowly evaporating into a thick smog of deep gray and inky black. It is this physical self-referentiality that makes Hasty’s photographs so intriguing to peer into, around, and behind. The dim lighting against the gallery’s black walls also casts ghostly projections of the images behind the glass plate and even on the gray floor, creating barely discernible projections reminiscent of negatives.
The photographs in Z create a palpable yet playful silence, one that allows us to reflect on our conceptions of gender and how we inhabit our own bodies in both a physical and a spiritual sense. The nude subjects, a range of individuals identifying as genderqueer, transgender, or cisgender, generate a strong tension between the material presence of their nakedness and a more elusive sense of self. However, sometimes it is the struggle to identify with one’s own physical body that proves most difficult. Hasty’s photographs, in their fluidity and feeling, give us a spectrum of choices, questions, and people to connect with.
Robyn Renee Hasty’s Z is on view at Pioneer Works (159 Pioneer Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn) through July 12.
“Black infants in America are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants—11.3 per 1,000 black babies, compared with 4.9 per 1,000 white babies, according to the most recent government data—a racial disparity that is actually wider than in 1850, 15 years before the end of slavery, when most black women were…
he ownership of images has a long and nuanced legal history, which has evolved dramatically in recent years as cultural standards and photographic technologies have rapidly advanced
The show, which honors the 50th anniversary of an exhibition history once ignored, continues a series of projects documenting Wilmington’s contemporary art scene.
Renty and his daughter Delia. Renty was an enslaved African, kidnapped from the Congo, sold and forced into slave labor on the South Carolina plantation of B.F. Taylor
What is the relation between possessing a person, possessing their image, and dispossessing their progeny
As a scholar of African American history and photography whose work has focused on the status of violent images in museums and archives, I fully support the validity of Ms. Tamara Lanier’s claim and the amicus brief.
Two K-12 art teachers will each receive a $1,000 cash gift and an additional $500 to put toward classroom art supplies. Nominations are due October 31.
The daguerreotypes of Renty Taylor, Delia, Drana, Alfred, Jack, George Fassena, and Jem remained in an unused storage cabinet until 1975, when it was discovered by an employee of the Peabody Museum.
I am writing in support of the amicus curiae brief submitted by Professor Ariella Aïsha Azoulay of Brown University for the full restitution of the daguerreotypes of Renty Taylor and his daughter Delia, currently held by Harvard University, to their familial descendant, Tamara Lanier.
We cannot be indifferent to the long-lasting effects of photography. The photographs at the center of Lanier v. Harvard are relentless in making Renty and Delia Taylor work and perform as slaves. The pain inflicted on them has not ceased. Photography has the capacity to propagate harm, and we have the moral obligation to interrupt…