Girls, Interrupted (by a Lens)

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A new exhibition at the Arthur Ross Gallery shows “the pathological in the everyday.”

Vegas showgirls parade in glittery thongs. An actress reclines in a Versace dress. A teenager pushes up her cleavage in front of a dressing-room mirror. A group of little girls play in sparkly princess outfits.

The portraits of ordinary life that make up Lauren Greenfield’s Girl Culture—an exhibition of documentary photographs at the Arthur Ross Gallery that runs through July 31—are, taken as a whole, anything but ordinary. The 40-some images contrast the young with the old, the model-esque with the overweight, the innocent with the experienced. Each holds some insecurity, some vanity.

Through the variety of subject matter and the subtlety of her images, Greenfield questions the importance of physical appearance, the effect of the media on self-perception, and how women treat their bodies. The easy-looking snapshots of regular life strive to capture the essence of being a girl in today’s world.

Greenfield, who published these and other photographs in a 2002 book, also titled Girl Culture, notes in the conclusion that she was “interested in documenting the pathological in the everyday.” She adds: “Understanding the dialectic between the extreme and the mainstream—the anorectic and the dieter, the stripper and the teenager who bares her midriff or wears a thong—is essential to understanding contemporary feminine identity.”

Girl Culture involves the “whole idea of female perfection,” says Lynn Marsden-Atlass, director of the Arthur Ross Gallery and curator of the University Art Collection. “It’s how the media and TV combine to give us renditions of how we should look.”

“How many times have we looked at our bodies in the mirror and said, ‘Oh, I’m imperfect,’” Marsden-Atlass asks rhetorically.

In these photographs, which were documented in private and public settings over the span of almost a decade, Greenfield portrays a broad range of human imperfection, using images ranging from the Gucci-shoe-adorned feet of an actress to the weighing rooms in a summer fat-camp. 

“This project,” Greenfield writes in Girl Culture, “has been my mirror and my attempt to deconstruct the illusions that make up our reality.” 

—Laura Francis C’13

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