The girl in Matthew Porter’s photograph Base Camp has a whimsical, far-off look, like one of the girls in Sophia Coppola’s early films – Virgin Suicides or Lost in Translation. She’s broody and inaccessible but also really normal-looking: the girl next door who has a deep interior life or who just looks especially pretty when zoning out. She’s wearing jeans and a flannel button-down shirt, has her sandy blond hair pulled back and sits inside of a mandarin-colored tent made of fabric too ethereal to belong to anything you’d find at REI. It’s more the kind of tent you might make as a kid out of your mother’s discarded sheer curtains. She has a black and silver microscope between her legs and a white metal bar from a loopy fence is superimposed over the print’s right side, an unfinished decorative border.
Base Camp hangs in the small back room of Matthew Porter’s Greet the Dust, up at M+B in West Hollywood through December 7, and seeing it might make you go back and look at the whole show again.
Porter, whose last show at M+B featured images of plants superimposed on midcentury architecture, crisp images of Jane Fonda or images of women posing as Fonda, and landscapes too perfect too be totally believed, is a smooth operator. Like Elad Lassry, Roe Etheridge or Sarah VanDerBeek, all born in the same decade, he makes you feel nostalgic for a just-past era of print advertising when the colors and saturation of photographs felt slightly more tangible, when the adman’s arguments for materialism felt slightly more material.
Porter calls his exhibition Greet the Dust after a statement by King Gustav V of Sweden when remains of explorers were returned to the Swedes 30 years after they had failed to reach the North Pole and crashed their balloon over a Norwegian island. The remains of a dead fantasy brought back into the public eye. Most every image involves multiple exposures, all done using analogue processes. In This is Tomorrow, patterns and color blocks, the photo of a coconut and a kitchen table all come together to make a colorful, mod montage. In Plastic Form, a tan plastic form floats above a red Corinthian column, two tables and a pair of purple clippers. It’s all competently, seductively produced, yet suggests a perplexing fantasy.
What happens most clearly in Base Camp happens to some degree in all Porter’s prints: his highly stylized, seemingly benign images make his subjects more appealing and more inscrutable than they otherwise would be. They seduce you like a pretty, moody shot in a TV show like Mad Men, only in the context of a gallery and with no narrative to distract, you’re more aware of being seduced.