Performance

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
Times
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
City
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). SlateArtAndDesign.com or
510-652-0485

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