Andrew Roth is pleased to present a selection of vintage black-and-white photographs from the 70s by Ellen Brooks. This is the first time these prints have been exhibited.
In 1973, shortly after graduating from the MFA program at UCLA, Brooks began work on a series of large-format full-figure nude photographs of adolescents. She posted an ad in a local newspaper that read simply: “Artist/teacher, San Francisco Art Institute, needs models, ages 10-15, male/female, $3.50/hour.” In response, more than fifty children, generally accompanied by their parents, came to Brooks’ studio to pose for her; after establishing a rapport with her subjects, she made numerous photographs according to prescribed camera positions marked off on her studio floor. The subjects posed naturally, unselfconsciously (this is Brooks’ genius) in front of a white Terry cloth backdrop draped impromptu, to mimic a classical form. The final work, which was completed in 1976, consisted of seventeen oversized photographs printed on photosensitized linen. The figures were presented one-and-a-half times life size.
The first manifestation of this work was exhibited in the art gallery at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, fall of 1976. The gallery space was ideal for Brooks: an intimate square. Twelve of the seventeen photographs hung equidistant from each other; when you entered the gallery and stood in the center, you were surrounded by the images. “Installation,” the prescient title of the show, informs the audience of no more than the obvious; the austerity of the images is reflected in Brooks’ approach to their presentation. Subsequent to the Nevada show, “Installation” was exhibited at three other venues: the Atholl McBean Gallery at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1977, N.A.M.E Gallery in Chicago in 1978, and as part of a group show at the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art in 1979.
The specific photographs on view in the present exhibition have never before been exhibited. The eight vintage black-and-white photographs are from the original series but here they are presented as 24 x 20 inch images, printed from the negatives in 1980. The unique work titled “Stephanie 1975-77,” consisting of a grid of seventy 10×8 inch photographs, documents a young girl’s physical development over the course of three formative adolescent years. And lastly, the unique wax-paper carbon transfers, were created in 1977 from a collection of 4×5 inch contact prints, degenerated through the Xerox process.
Placing this work within a cultural and art historical context is critical. Brooks’ interest in the nude as subject matter is apparent in her graduate work and early exhibitions, and her sculptural concerns are evident in the adolescents’ poses as well as the faux classical drapery. Work on these pictures began on the heels of the 1960s when our relationship to the naked body – our own and others – was natural, uncensored, certainly on the west coast. Brooks’ fascination with typologies parallels the work of the Bechers, and early Cindy Sherman; her interest in mediated imagery is directly influenced by Wallace Berman’s Verifax collages. Questioning the veracity of the photographic medium, the confrontational relationship between viewer and subject, public vs. private, were themes being explored by artists as diverse as Robert Mapplethorpe and Hans Peter Feldmann. We can’t deny the fundamental qualities of photography that allow us to view the common as extraordinary; and in this case, Brooks permits us to view the forbidden without incrimination.
To accompany the photographs on view we have included a selection of press clippings, an artist statement, correspondence and other ephemera, tracking the development of the original work.