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It’s ironic, isn’t it? No one likes to suffer, but musicians, writers and artists of every ilk unfailingly create some of their most brilliant work while in the throes of agony. In two solo shows at the Griffin Museum of Photography in Winchester, Rafael Soldi and Marjorie Salvaterra plumb the vagaries of discontent in brilliant and distinctive ways.
In the Atelier Gallery, Rafael Soldi poignantly intertwines anguish and beauty in his photographs from the series “Sentiment”, a chronicle of his “emotional exorcism” following the sudden loss of the man he loved. Soldi’s large (24”x30”) color prints have an airy, sometimes desolate feeling and capitalize on natural lighting to convey his avalanche of emotions. The soft, diffused light of “Last Embrace” embodies tenderness, whereas his image of a solitary ashtray aflame is isolated in relative darkness. The stark contrast of hard surfaces with a fragile, burning letter in “A Step Toward Something I Have Yet To Figure Out” symbolically conveys his darkest, feverish feelings of “panic, regret, fear and loss.”
Whether images of emotion-laden objects or of the lovers themselves, Soldi’s photographs are wrenching in their understated simplicity. The absence of cloying sentimentality confers a raw elegance, even a measure of hope. His gentle style evokes not only our compassion but an implicit understanding of Soldi’s “struggle to reconstruct a life without the very thing that I thought defined it.”
Delving into an equally recognizable form of disquiet, Marjorie Salvaterra mines the distress of women struggling to be all things to all people in the series “Her”, on exhibit in the Griffin Gallery. Gender politics combine with Salvaterra’s heightened sense of the absurd, taking flight in high camp masquerades that employ a dozen women, usually dressed or undressed identically, in inventively surreal scenarios. A cinematically derived B&W format and theatrically staged sets accentuate the otherworldliness faced by Salvaterra’s glamorous drones. Overpowering natural forces like the ocean and wind or cultural forces like a domineering spouse or an oppressive church symbolize the pressures that women endure.
But don’t get the wrong idea, Salvaterra may be subversive but her message is more of a madcap Orwellian warning than a bitter retort. Sure, she exploits shock value in the creation of her biting commentaries, but she issues a statement of solidarity in every image. Even the most depressing situations are buoyed by the very fact of her loyal posse. To me, this reads “we are in it together”, an undeniable subliminal message. Salvaterra ‘s exaggerated imagery may be a stunning or sad commentary on the torment of contemporary American women, but they are also sweet revenge. Just remember who’s calling the shots.
The solo exhibits of Rafael Soldi and Marjorie Salvaterra will be showing at the Griffin Museum until August 31, 2014. For more information about them or the spectacular 20th Juried Exhibition in the Main Gallery, go to: http://www.griffinmuseum.org/blog/exhibits-griffin-museum-of-photography/
Feature image: “Eve Unraveled 1”, 16”x24” archival pigment print by Marjorie Salvaterra (courtesy of the artist)