“Queering” – a term that came out of queer theory in the 1980s and 1990s to challenge heterosexuality as the societal standard – has branched out, addressing a range of oppositional forces in art, literature, and beyond. Mark McKnight’s Turn Into, six immaculately printed black-and-white photographs at Seattle’s James Harris Gallery through October 13, expands on this discussion to reconsider the concept of “normality” with an aesthetically and conceptually poetic twist.
McKnight questions the photograph’s ability to serve as a document. He uses a straightforward approach when shooting – and then in the darkroom accentuates shadows and other details to create tension around how we see and understand our everyday reality. Across all of the photographs in the exhibition, bodies, landscapes, and objects have the same abstracted weight and value –bodies read like landscapes, and vice versa.
Earth Skin, 2018, for example, which depicts two crater-like holes on the ground, butts up against Ballerino, 2018, a man photographed face down, from the shoulders up. In both of the images, shadows threaten to swallow viewers, visually and metaphorically. A simple image of a hole in the ground appears sexually anthropomorphized when exhibited beside a nude male figure, and McKnight renders the body with the same visual value as the earth beside it.
The other photographs are similarly disorienting. Spinning Away, 2018, for example, is a close up of a man gripping a large round sphere to his chest as if his life depended on it. It could be a giant melon, a beach ball, or even a heavy marble stone – regardless, it’s both seductive and unnerving.
While many of McKnight’s images directly reference sexuality and the representation of the body, their queering is also about pushing us, as viewers, to revise the way we look at images. It all falls back onto the exhibition’s title, Turn Into– the idea that identity isn’t fixed, transformation is a constant, and that things, and people, are free to morph and change.