Letinsky’s images

Letinsky’s images are most dynamic and psychologically complex when she explicitly foregrounds her role by putting herself in front of the camera. In these photographs, she becomes what anthropologists term a “participant-observer” in and to the dramas she and her husband, Eric, enact for the camera. Letinsky’s shift to first-person narrator, at least within the border of the pictures, further complicates what we see. As with the other photographs in this series, this sequence of pictures asks the viewer to interpret props and poses as evidence of a story already in progress. The pair of photos – Untitled (Laura and Eric – Dress), 1995, and Untitled (Laura and Eric – Hands Clasped), 1995 – show the couple after (?) sex, engaged in a wordless dialogue. In Dress, Laura stands beside the bed and studies her image in a large dresser mirror while Eric lies flat at a diagonal on the bed. Laura holds up a dress which covers only the front of her body, as if considering its use as a shield. From his position on the bed, Eric watches Laura with an expression that fuses brooding concern and indifference. Laura’s backside – made luminous by the white light that comes in from the window – is exposed to the camera and thus, we see what Laura and Eric cannot see.

In Hands Clasped, we are forced to shift perspectives in relation to the new positioning of the couple. Our eyes pass over the bed and Eric’s inert body, whitewashed by the window’s light, and move toward the mirror in which we can see Laura’s dark image gazing down at Eric. Eric’s posture suggests resignation and complete disengagement. The only sign of life is the leaf-patterned blanket rumbling off the edge of the bed. In stark contrast to Eric’s disquieting stillness, Laura’s gestures and facial expressions as reflected in the mirror display a mixture of longing, regret and a resolve to act. She cuts a strong figure: now wearing the dress, she is fully differentiated from the half-dressed body on the bed. Interestingly, these two scenes don’t include the personal effects so prominent in the other pictures in this series. In fact, the room appears to be uninhabited: the dresser top is clear of objects, the wall is blank, the floor is bare. We sense that this space has only been temporarily inhabited for the staging of this story of alienation, rupture and self-differentiation, all inevitable components of romantic love.

Through her pictures, Letinsky skillfully and honestly visualizes the myriad ways in which specific couples communicate intimacy. Each photograph in the series is an iteration on one theme. And, viewed together, the pictures link to construct a larger story, one which competes with our more conventional ideas of romance.

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