Jen Davis at the Photo Passage, Harbourfront Centre (235 Queens Quay West), to July 17. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Jen Davis has been chronicling her day-to-day life as an obese woman in her mid-20s in a series of C prints that open a window onto the intimate details of her daily struggle with body image and her ideas of beauty, identity and self.
Her images have an arresting and cinematic quality that gives their content some measure and distance. These are not documentary snapshots but carefully composed tableaux in which the artist is the subject.
Many photos are cropped to show her from neck down, leaving her thoughts and facial expressions out of the picture as the camera addresses her body. In others she looks out with a girlish and brooding intensity. With such deliberate staging and attention to detail, she seems to be playing ironically with the idea of an intimate visual chronicle, even as she evokes some of the truths of her daily experience. She makes the painfully raw and vulnerable content compulsively watchable.
I wonder, however, about all this attention to the self and the body. Like Vanessa Beecroft's obsessive recording of her struggle with exercise-related anorexia, Davis's photos provide an intimate look at what it means to struggle with weight. Her images are beautiful, and I appreciate what they attempt to express, but I'm left with the sense of work that is too narrowly and morbidly focused on the self.
Perhaps that isn't a criticism of the work, but of our confessional era.