Carolyn Mendelsohn: Being Inbetween / Reviewed by Casey Orr / 24.04.18
Look! Face to face, hold my gaze…
The open-plan Crossley Gallery at Dean Clough, one of the largest spaces for contemporary art in Yorkshire, allows for a comprehensive view of the 42 young women in the portraits of Carolyn Mendelsohn’s ongoing series Being Inbetween. Their overheard voices are the soundtrack to viewing the portraits through a soundscape taken from interviews and edited by Graham Coatman. The series here is chosen by Mendelsohn and Impressions Gallery director Anne McNeill.
Beautifully produced and printed, slightly larger than life and hung at eye level, the individual gaze of each girl never averts, never looks away. The power of this series is undoubtedly held in the gaze. There is a stillness; an unapologetic engagement with the viewer. These are girls journeying into adulthood, standing here at a precipice and on the point of no return. The portraits, with their quotes of aspirations for lives full of meaning, are full of hope.
My grown-up self feels a bittersweet awareness of their near future, moving from childhood into the hyper-visibility that accompanies adolescence, the sexualized power inherent in teenage girls, the realities of growing up into an overwhelmingly patriarchal society. Their lives are unmapped horizons, full of potential and future.
Mendelsohn, thinking of her own experience navigating these years, says, “The work arises from my own memories of being this age and the desire to give voice and faces to the young women who inevitably must pass through these mysterious hinterlands on their journey towards adulthood.’
2018 has seen more debates about sexism and equality – more conversation about what it means to be a woman and redefinitions of an inclusive feminism – than at any time in history. It is this world that these 10 – 12 year olds are stepping into, a world of questioning, of anxiety and upheaval, but also of hope.
Mendelsohn’s portraits are quiet and direct, allowing for individual and collective agency. Perhaps this is these girls’ time to look straight at the camera and declare who they are – this is not the self-reflecting selfie but the stare that looks out to the world.
Look at me. Hold my gaze.
Photography itself is implicit in the debates about what it means to be a woman. Now more than ever, discussions about female perspectives and the female gaze are opening up more fluid ways of seeing and being visible.
The language of photography is changing through the female gaze. These young women are no doubt in the early throes of constructing their self-image through photography and they are already fully immersed through its ubiquitous place in our lives. But Mendelsohn’s portraits turn that selfie-culture back on the girls and ask them to look at us, demanding that we question their place in current culture and asking that we become a part of their individual stories.
This is not a selfie. This is me. Look! Face to face, hold my gaze.
The future is theirs. They are betwixt and between, but not for long.
– reviewed for Photomonitor by Casey Orr
You can see Carolyn Mendelsohn’s Being Inbetween at Crossley Gallery, Dean Clough until May 24th.
Crossley Gallery, Dean Clough, Halifax HX3 5AX