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Natalie White: A Muse Me

Kristin Adsit

Natalie White, Entanglement is a Fragile Thing, 2015. Dye diffusion transfer print (Polaroid), 30 x 21 inches. Courtesy Bill Brady Gallery, Miami
Natalie White: A Muse Me
Bill Brady Gallery
April 7, 2017 – May 13, 2017

As a brand, Polaroid has come to represent a particular moment of retro-futurism. A tangible, material predecessor of the smartphone camera, the Polaroid allowed users for the first time to capture and reveal moments from daily life in a matter of minutes. The 20 x 24 format in particular comes with a long and rich history of artist collaborations since seven of the oversized cameras were created in 1978. Notable users have included Barbara Kasten, Julian Schnabel, Mary Ellen Mark, and Chuck Close. Both Mark and Close have used the medium to capture unedited, hyper-realistic portraits of United States Presidents (Bill Clinton, Barack Obama) and Hollywood celebrities for major magazines (New York, Vanity Fair), among other projects.

Natalie White, Similar State, 2015. Dye diffusion transfer print (Polaroid), 30 x 21 inches. Courtesy Bill Brady Gallery, Miami

In Natalie White’s series of 20 x 24 Polaroid self-portraits, rather than directly capturing her physical likeness or emotional state, she uses Technicolor lighting and double or triple exposures to depict multiple versions of herself interacting with one another. The images draw on some qualities of the medium, as seen in the detailed texture of her skin and hair. There is clearly no editing or airbrushing employed, unlike images from her career modeling for artists and magazines, one assumes. However this approach is also decidedly indirect, upending the immediacy and accessibility traditionally associated with the brand through their careful staging and composition. Using only technology that was available forty years ago, the works demonstrate a skillful use of technique and choreography, documenting White’s performance as both artist and muse.

In front of the camera, White remains elusive. Her face is often in profile or looking away from the viewer, sometimes fully lost in shadow. Even when she faces the camera head-on, her eyes and mouth are searching, not emoting or expressive. Her tattoo is visible, but not legible; she holds her arm across her stomach in a self-protective gesture. Instead, self-expression enters into the works through decisions made by White as the artist directing the camera. As the figures are overlaid, they sometimes seem to touch one another, appearing to pull each other’s hair or hold hands. The multiple exposures also emphasize different areas on the other figure, such as in Similar State (2015), in which the forearm of the top figure highlights the eyes of the bottom figure. In these compositional relationships, she embodies various parts of her whole, becoming the self and its shadow, dominant and submissive, the Roman god Janus facing both forward and backward.

Natalie White, One at a Time, 2015. Dye diffusion transfer print (Polaroid), 30 x 21 inches. Courtesy Bill Brady Gallery, Miami

The artist explores and reveals an internal stand-alone universe not grounded in a location or place, and as a result, the images have a classical, timeless quality. The undefined black background could be the dramatic contrast of a Caravaggio painting, or the void of deep space. The lack of clothing or props releases the works from any signals of a particular time. However this may shift moving forward, as the medium itself may attest to their particular moment. Film stock for the camera has not been produced in decades and the chemicals of the current supply are not projected to remain functional past 2017. The drip marks, flares, and fern frond patterns that result from the developing process and mark the edges and corners of some photos may prove to become a time signature in and of themselves.

Kristin Adsit is an art conservator, nature enthusiast, and dog person based in Miami.