Christina Koci Hernandez explores identity and spectacle.

The Roman poet Lucretius, explaining the imagination, declared,
“There are a great many flimsy films from the surface of objects flying
about … in all directions. When these encounter one another in the
air, they easily amalgamate … [and] penetrate through the chinks of
the body and set in motion the delicate substance of the mind within.”
Balzac had a similar intuition which caused him to fear being
photographed, conceiving of human bodies as “a series of ghostly images
superimposed in layers to infinity, wrapped in infinitesimal films …
[which] each Daguerreian operation [would] … detach and use up,”
according to his photographer friend, Nadar.

Christina Koci Hernandez‘s photographs in Ambiguous
may not make viewers fear for their subjects’ precious
bodily images, but there is a phantasmal aspect to these low-tech,
plastic Holga camera images of performers barely emerging from an inky
Bill Brandt blackness. Hernandez employs the instincts honed in her
photojournalism career to investigate the self-presentation and visual
manipulation practiced by neo-burlesque strippers, lucha libre
wrestlers, and performers in the daily street pageant. The traditions
of street and subculture photography derive, of course, from
19th-century realism, but Hernandez combines empathy and satire with
objective observation: “I enjoy tiptoeing around the lives I follow …
I admire the lack of inhibition … So many subjects I photograph are
capable of confronting life head-on, less concerned than many as to
what the opinions of others might be.” Hernandez’s use of an
unobtrusive, ingratiatingly cute toy camera probably grants her a
degree of freedom — both from interference and to experiment
— that the usual electric-car-size SLR would not; it also insists
that art derives from sensibility and not gadgetry.

Susan Sontag characterized photography as benign predation.
Hernandez’s image-captures from the Tease series include
“Garter,” a stairwell glimpse of a performer adjusting her stocking
backstage; and “Hold Her,” a shadowy view of two women tangoing in
black slips. Highlights from the Everyday Mutations series
include “Luchador,” a powerful masked figure poised to spring from the
canvas; and “Crucifixion,” a robed fighter, kneeling with arms
outstretched and head bowed to the impassive audience, suggesting
gladiatorial morituri salutes to their emperor. From The
series comes “Urban Resolve,” a woman in white crossing a
darkened street beneath the familiar radiant pedestrian sign; and
“Ambiguous Times,” a worried-looking woman, overly made up, ambling
through Arbusville. Ambiguous Times runs through November 28 at
Slate Art and Design (4770 Telegraph Ave., Oakland). or


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