FAMILIAR BECOMES UNFAMILIAR: Adams’s Untitled (Suzie).
A green-eyed woman seems to stand against a glittering pinstriped wall in Rebecca Adams’s photo Untitled (Suzie). You only see her from her nose up. Her brown hair is laid out as if floating above her head. Though you know in your brain that Suzie must be lying on her back (it turns out to be on a couch in Adams’s Wickenden Street apartment), your eyes keep insisting she’s upright and her hair is levitating because Adams has rotated her 90 degrees.
“I’m trying to create this balance between real life and something that looks dreamy and surrealist,” Adams tells me of her color photographs on view at White Electric Coffee Shop.
“I did a lot of research while I was doing these photos, reading Freud . . . The whole uncanny thing, something that’s familiar that becomes unfamiliar,” the 22-year-old continues. “You can take a picture of your couch in your apartment that you see every day, and not by doing anything to it, by taking a picture of it, it looks completely different.”
Adams, who received a bachelor’s degree in photography from RISD last spring, shot these square photos with a Hasselblad medium format camera. They’re mostly of friends, mostly close-up, mostly posed, mostly curiously cropped, mostly in her apartment. She generally shoots with a very narrow range of focus, so that here only Suzie’s eyes to her ear to where the part of her hair meets her forehead are in focus. All the rest is a beautiful blur, like the soft-focus halo around a 1930s movie starlet. These are charismatic photos, slick and lovely and kinda sexy, romanticizing white urban hipster ennui.
Adams’s scenes are spare, pared down to a few things, a few colors, a few moments of clear focus that direct your eyes through her compositions. A row of masks hangs just below an expanse of ceiling. A guy holds a glistening octopus in his outstretched hands. Crepe paper streamers swoop diagonally across a photo, contrasting with all the straight lines of a space heater, floor boards, and wall molding. And then you notice a guy warily peaking out from behind the appliance.
In another picture, a pale, slender guy lays on a bed with a sexy bit of bare hip exposed between his T-shirt and form-fitting jeans. His head hides under a pillow with a kitschy horse head case. The pillow is arranged so that the horse head seems to replace his own. It’s a fun visual pun, but gimmicky.
In Untitled (Zoe), a woman with a pinned-up mop of blonde hair lays upside-down on a striped couch (the same one from before) with her head resting on the seat, reading what appears to be an art book. Only the pages of the book are in sharp focus. A blurry sea of blue and burgundy carpet tips up vertiginously behind her head. On the floor to the left sits a hammer, but because it’s shot from above, the hammer seems to float stuck to a wall, threatening to fall down on the woman. It feels a bit contrived. The real drama is in Adams’s sharply observed details — Zoe’s raised left eyebrow and her eyes, looking left, serious, suspicious.
In Untitled (Michael), Adams shoots up from below at a shaggy haired guy in a yellow shirt posed as if reaching up to change a ceiling light bulb. The composition is driven by the diagonal of his reaching arm and the narrow range of color — white to Caucasian flesh to yellow to sandy brown. Limited color directs your attention to details — the loop of brown string around Michael’s wrist and the crack in the ceiling spider-webbing away from the light fixture.
DIRECTED TO DETAILSL: Untitled (Michael).
The look of fashion photography suffuses art photography these days. Adams’s palate, her cropping, and the narrow range of focus bring to mind minimalist versions of Banana Republic ads. These photos are all about style, about beautifully arranging beautiful objects. As is often the case in fashiony photos, Adams has a great formal eye, producing seductive images, but — maybe because her designs aren’t insistent enough yet, maybe because she treats her people like mannequins — emptiness lurks just beneath the surface.
Photographs by Rebecca Adams | White Electric Coffee Shop, 711 Westminster Street, Providence | Through April 1