"Deana has been exploring both sides of the street," writes Robert Blake in Contact Sheet, Light Work's publication devoted to Corporeal, the new Deana Lawson exhibition now on view. "Her images do not shy away from the tension between the sacred and the profane."
Light Work's associate director Mary Goodwin echoes Blake in her gallery wall text when she writes of the Rochester-born, Bed-Stuy-based Lawson's work that "skin calls forth both the scared and profane .Who are we willing to look at, and why?"
This is a very beautiful exhibition indeed. Although you could hardly find a more classic staple of Western visual art than the white female nude, Lawson's images of nude African American women and men seem remarkably fresh.
There is a great deal of skin in Lawson's her new exhibition, Corporeal -- both in the 15 large format pigmented inkjet color prints on the wall and in the additional images in the accompanying catalogue. In many of these images, her subjects have posed nude or partially nude, though some of the strongest and most gripping of the images don't involve nudity at all. "The Beginning" records an infant's first moments, its own tiny, reaching fist mirrored in the doctor's blue-gloved hand across the chest and presumably a father's hand soothing the mother's forehead. "The Reception" depicts a newly-wed, middle-aged, interracial couple and has a faintly disturbing edge; though his arm's around her waist, he looks unsteady -- a little drunk maybe -- his hands rough, and she looks frail, the worse for wear, as if she might be ill.
And while the setting in some of these photographs is quite spare, it's evident the prints need to be quite large. Otherwise you would miss details that form narratives of the lives of these subjects. These range from the time-honored practice of posing for a portrait in front of other, previous family snapshots and portraits -- besides a good many photos-within-photos here, in one case intriguingly even seen in a mirror, there are also several appropriated images -- to the telling objects with which people surround themselves for a bit of grace even in very worn and modest circumstances: stacks of DVDs, elegant damask drapes and snowy eyelet curtains and velvet furniture that redeem even very worn and modest apartments, a tiny plastic statue of the Virgin on a nightstand beneath a magazine photo of Michael Jackson tacked on the wall, the hasty partial paint job in time for Christmas, the decoration that a good manicure or tattoo provide, the collection of Cubist paintings of women's faces beneath a chandelier with a single working bulb that an aging diva keeps.