Lindsay McCrum: Strange Beauty: Still Icons

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Lindsay McCrum: Strange Beauty: Still Icons

Oct 28 — Dec 22, 2021

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Lindsay McCrum’s Strange Beauty: Still Icons is a series of images, styled and lit cinematically that examines contemporary representations of beauty linked to fashion, glamour, and celebrity. Haunting and enchanted scenes, although designed and orchestrated, somehow seem improvised and unexpected. But the subjects in these photographs are not real. Rather, they are dolls — a few of iconic celebrities — dressed and posed dynamically much like human portraits and presented frozen in time and space as if in movie stills.

In his 1919 essay “The Uncanny” (Das Unheimliche) Sigmund Freud describes the disquieting psychological experience of encountering dolls that appear too human and are presented in unexpected environments. These are feelings, Freud writes, of things that are “strangely familiar.” The images in Strange Beauty: Still Icons are just as evocative, capturing the unsettling quality of these inanimate representations of actual beauty.

The scenes that Lindsay McCrum creates and “cast” differ from the use of Japanese plastic-cast figures from the 1950s that Laurie Simmons places in dollhouse settings or at tourist destinations around the world. Nor are they similar to the life-size sexualized dolls photographed by German surrealist Hans Bellmer or the toys employed by David Levinthal. McCrum’s subjects are not photographed on constructed sets. They are shot on location in and around San Francisco. Her models are always in motion, going somewhere mysterious or offering a glimpse of a private moment preparing for a secret assignation. The distinctive mise-en-scene of Strange Beauty: Still Icons combines lighting, costuming, camera placement, and camera angles to create the dramatic look and feel of the work’s photographic vignettes.

But the dolls in Lindsay McCrum’s photographs are not playthings or tiny plastic manikins to outfit and pretend. They are representatives of powerful forces in our lives, characters playing parts dictated by the script and the expectations conjured up by popular culture.

These scenes and photographs seem part of a longer, but forgotten narrative, and we are asked to fill in a beginning and an ending. We are invited to enter a world of glamour, cinema and fashion that straddles fiction and reality without a synopsis of the plot. The photographs in Strange Beauty: Still Icons capture the poignancy of unattainable symbols of beauty pushed onto a world where, as Chekhov writes, everything and everyone ought to be beautiful.

Already overexposed to messages of what it means to be beautiful from the clothes we wear to the roles we play, we are meant to be suspicious of the reality these dolls present. That Lindsay McCrum’s photographs are strangely beautiful and alluring challenge us even more to imagine how, as individuals, we would like to picture and define who we are.

Lindsay McCrum’s work has been exhibited in the U.S. and Europe. She lives and works in San Francisco and New York.

Lindsay McCRUM. Evening Escape — 2021 archival pigment print, edition: 8 13.5 x 10 inches