The methodical clicking of the slide projector, as it pushes 80 35mm slides of women photographing themselves across our field of vision, reminds us that Anne Collier’s Women with Cameras (Self-Portrait), on view through December 17 at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, is rooted in the pre-digital era. Collier scavenged the images, which date from the 1970s to the early 2000s, from online sites, flea markets, and thrift stores, and then re-photographed them into slide format. As we perch on small round stools in a blackout chamber, the drone of the projector confirms that our gaze is complicit in an intimate analog performance. Without distraction, we are looking at women who are looking at themselves.
In our age of selfies and unabated self-promotion, these self-portraits are unfiltered, private snapshots, made for a limited audience, rather than for the digital universe of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The women, who took them with film cameras, were mostly casually dressed and posing in cluttered domestic interiors – bathrooms, bedrooms, or laundry rooms. A poster of Jim Morrison, a hairdo, or a skirt length, provide clues to a particular time. The women range across the spectrums of age, race, and beauty. Nudity is non-existent although we are treated to several midriffs, legs, and backsides.
Most were taken by pointing a camera into a mirror, making the glare of the flash a constant compositional element that often blots out most or all of the women’s faces. The most compelling images are those in which the photographer focuses simply on herself, but one taken in a car’s rearview mirror, which reflects a coastal landscape, is also compelling.
With repeated viewings, (Self-Portrait) evokes a hybrid experience that is fascinating, voyeuristic, and tedious. The constant glare of the flash and the generic quality of many of the images makes quite a few forgettable. Ultimately, (Self-Portrait) makes public, personal photographs that were once private. Although culled from the public domain, (Self-Portrait) raises the uneasy question, which it leaves unanswered, of whether it is entirely ethical to turn found, anonymous self-portrait images into a publicly exhibited work of art.