This exhibit includes selections from her ongoing projects City of Incurable Women, and All the Women I Know. Across her artistic practice Larson is concerned with the presumed objectivity of photography; the notion of its fidelity as a medium for documenting reality is at odds with the frequently staged narratives captured by the lens. She often employs fictive scenarios to evoke a more poetic truth. Her photographic practice is steeped in feminism, and her work is often political in nature.
The history of female hysteria is the inciting subject of Larson’s series City of Incurable Women. She examines her subject through the lens of the contemporary political landscape, in which the autonomy of women’s bodies is under constant attack. The photographs present women in enigmatic tableaus, engaged in strenuous poses that defy easy readings, their faces predominantly turned away or otherwise obscured from the viewer. In Huddle (2019) a group of 6 women seem to struggle in taut muscled exertion to create a pyramid in a basketball court setting; it is a fascinating image that calls to mind allusions of cheerleaders performing at a basketball game- but also eschews it thoroughly and pointedly. There are no uniforms, no seeming order to their actions, no bright smiling faces pointing outward to the viewer. Larson writes that she thinks “of these women as fugitives -tenacious, exhausted, ambivalent, moving nervously within the frame. I see them as figures of resistance.” One of the sources of inspiration Larson cites is historical and contemporary photographs documenting political protest.
There is an undeniable beauty to the images in this series, an almost haunting quality. Before more logical means were applied to the study of mental health, supernatural explanations were often invoked- demonic possession frequently being defined as a source for hysteria. The diagnosis of hysteria was long applied as a way to control women, to subjugate their bodies and take away their autonomy. One of Larson’s sources of inspiration for this series is the Iconographie photographique de la Salpêtrière, an 1876-80 publication that photographically documents women diagnosed with hysteria in a French asylum. Though this effort was more aligned with the scientific method, the photos themselves carry a patina of the eerie and unexplainable. This inspiration carries through into Larson’s series imbuing the photos with a mysterious quality.
The project All the Women I Know is an ongoing archive of black and white portraits of the women in Larson’s life. Similarly to the subjects of City of Incurable Women, the women in these photos are turned away from the camera. A model’s back turned to the photographer seems to be a negation of the expected intimacy of portraiture, however Larson reinstates intimacy through the small scale of the prints.
Larson asks of herself “besides myself, what do all of these women have in common?” The work is a rumination on connection, that reflects her feminist photographic practice. It is an invitation to the viewer to ponder the women that they know, from the most tenuously connected to the women we see and interact with on a daily basis. There are approximately 80 photographs in the archive thus far, and Larson intends to continue the project into the future.
Laura Larson has exhibited her work nationally and internationally, including Art in General, Bronx Museum of the Arts, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, SFCamerawork, Susanne Vielmetter/L.A. Projects, and Wexner Center for the Arts. Her exhibitions have been reviewed in Artforum, Hyperallergic, The New York Times, The New Yorker, and Time Out New York, and she has published artist projects in Cabinet, Documents, and The Literary Review. Her first book, Hidden Mother (Saint Lucy Books, 2017), was shortlisted for the Aperture/Paris Photo First Book Prize. She is the recipient of grants from Ohio Arts Council and the New York Foundation of the Arts, and of residency fellowships from MacDowell Colony, Santa Fe Art Institute, and Ucross Foundation. Since 2002, she’s presented four one-person exhibitions with Lennon, Weinberg Gallery in New York. Larson teaches photography in the School of Art + Design at Ohio University in Athens, OH.