Critic’s Notebook: Christa Blackwood’s “Prix West”

With aplomb, Austin artist Christa Blackwood marshals a breathtaking yet subtle critique of the traditional history of landscape and portrait photography in “Prix West,” her newest series on view at Photo Méthode Gallery.

Landscape masters such as Ansel Adams celebrated the conquest of the American West in black and white while seminal portrait photographers such as Edward Steichen invariably objectified the female body.

In a pristinely printed series of large black-and-white photos, Blackwood deftly undoes all that  history of the male gaze.Picture 018

Blackwood doesn’t come to her critique flippantly. For several years she has been carefully mapping visual strategy with considerable elegance and wry conceptual dashes in several previous series including “Naked Lady: A Dot Red” and “The Boys of Collodion,” both of which were on view two years ago at Photo Méthode.

For “Prix West” Blackwood once again uses a large-format view film camera, this time training her lens on a young male nude figure, staging him with much attention to composition in the rugged desert mountain landscape. Printed in luscious and large-scale black-and-white, Blackwood augments each scene with a translucent light pink shape of one kind or another.

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From “Prix West,” ©Christa Blackwood

Conceptually, the pink orbs, lines and boxes acts as guides, steering the viewer’s gaze to the essentialness of the scene — that is, a nude, youthful male figure in the landscape.

However, in very delibrae break from male photographers of the past (and with a wink in pink, too), Blackwood’s gaze contains a knowing sympathy of what — and who — her lens captures.

“Prix West” continues through Feb. 28 at Photo Méthode Gallery, Flatbed building, 2832 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. photomethode.com

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From “Prix West,” ©Christa Blackwood

Author: Jeanne Claire van Ryzin

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is the arts critic for the Austin American-Statesman. She writes about visual art, theater, dance, music, performance, public art, architecture and just about any combination thereof.

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