Written review by
Associate Curator, International Center of Photography
Zoe’s portfolio is overall good. It is slightly uneven – there are strong photographs and weaker ones, and I can see that Zoe is style searching for her voice, vision, distance and self-confidence as a photographer (which is part of the beautiful process…), so here I will give her my impression on all the photographs in the portfolio, starting with my favorite images then explaining why I think the others are weaker.
My favorite photographs in the series are portrait 1, very elegant, sensual and feminine, very well thought-through, and subtle, with the textures, the lines, the overall composition - it is very refined and creative. I also love portrait number 3, again very feminine and sensitive, delicate. I particularly love the background, that has a dream-like quality, not forced, and the reflection in the window. I would say in fact that overall, Zoe has an extremely beautiful relationship with her female models. I know, from reading her text, that it wasn’t easy to get used to the idea of an “imposed” subject, or sitter, but I think she did a lovely job with the models that were there for her to photograph. The relationship seems ot be fluid and playful, very delicate, very reserved in a way – I sense a shyness, on one or both sides, depending on the photographs. The portraits of men are slightly more awkward, for some reason, either too posed, to self-aware, too obvious (the composition of number 2 for instance is a little too much, although somewhat representative of the point I am making – a binary way of approaching The Other). Having said that, portrait number 8 is excellent: very good distance, very good lighting, that darkness is striking, and the subject’s look is really natural and powerful. It is my favorite male portrait in the series. Not to say that the others are bad photographs, in fact they are technically rather good, I am really speaking of the emotion that the portrait instinctively provokes, of its lightness and uniqueness. Zoe makes more striking photos of femininity – at least in this series. There is a complexity of the characters, of the postures, of the light, and I can feel that the urge is really to explore the many sides of that one notion – femininity, woman, in fact, Zoe’s own identity though these given subjects. Photographs 5 and 7 are again well composed and delicate, playful, romantic, delicately imagined. The most striking portrait in fact may be portrait number 9, that girl swimming, perhaps because there is less lightness of being in that photograph, more angst, and a very unique setting – the water – that give the photograph a more metaphoric dimension. The lines of the bathing suits, and of course that look on the girl’s face, at once worried and lost. To me, this is a beautiful portrait of teenagehood, and a very beautiful relationship between the photographer and the subject, where the gaze gets out of the frame… Comparatively, portrait number 10 is more self-aware and frontal, but I do love the composition – the sitter is slightly off to the right, off-balance, and also a little defiant. I love that it is a little more contrasted than the other ones, more Strömholm, if you will, with that very striking white light. Some of the best photographs in this portfolio have a quality that is close to Sally Mann, or Emmet Gowin – the photographers of their own intimacy, of their own family, who were able to capture the magical nature of childhood, and teenagehood, and particularly the femininity that lies therein.
I will end with the photographs that are the less powerful, to me, are the ones that are too posed, and therefore I tend to not like images 2, 4 and 12 that much: the model is not at the right distance (emotionally, physically), we are in that ‘forced” zone that makes any portrait less easy to be moved by, to get into. There can be no fiction at this distance, I am left on the surface, I can imagine the session, the conversation between Zoe and her models, and I can see that it never quite “clicked” on one side or on both sides. Not to say that these are bad portraits, composition wise they are good, but in terms of emotions, which is what matters, to me, then I would consider them weaker portraits. For that same reason, I would say that portrait number 11 is somewhat weaker too: forced, staged, “too much”.
Overall I think this is a very good series and I congratulate Zoe on this very successful “exercice de style”, as I gather that is was a challenge for her. She really developed her imagination, creativity and sensitivity and showed excellent skill. Bravo. I would encourage her to keep on researching that feminine identity…