eye | BLOG: Book of the Week: Selected by Laura Larson

book review say like that Photographs by Whitney Hubbs Reviewed by Laura Larson “Whitney Hubbs’ Say So catalogs a series of ruminative, wacky self-portraits made in 2019 and 2020. Shot with a 4×5 camera, the photographs abandon the masterclass mentality of large-format practice for a messy performance bereft of desire and identify…”

say like that
Photographs by Whitney Hubbs

SPBH Editions, 2021. 64 pp., 24 illustrations, 9½x11½x½”.

Whitney Hubbs say like that catalogs a series of ruminative and wacky self-portraits made in 2019 and 2020. Made with a 4×5 camera, the photographs abandon the master class mentality of large format practice for a messy performance stripped of desire and identity . The photographs are staged in the artist’s studio with his trappings squarely in the frame – nothing is hidden. I’m fully aware that I’m in a construction site and the unexpected: plywood sawhorse, cinder blocks, buckets, vinyl drop cloths repurposed as backdrops, duct tape everywhere. In this atmosphere, Hubbs auditions the props and gestures of amateur pornography with an eye to how they draw on the constitutive fiction of female availability. She pretends to deepthroat a 2×4 and straddles a tall, thin houseplant. She pours water on the front of her body – a girls-gone-crazy studio experiment. Both a medium and a humorist, she channels and disarms the conventions of porn.

Subject and object, Hubbs is a naïve contortionist staring at her camera. In the first image in the book, she is adorned in a black lace bodysuit, her sleepy eyes peering through a gas mask. The heels of her black boots are perched on cinder blocks and her thighs are spread apart. (I want to note that Hubbs owns many pairs of black boots—work clothes, not the sexy variety.) The heel of his right boot sinks into the black rubber trigger bulb. I love how the studio equipment becomes a sex toy in this scene, holding back the tension. Hubbs holds a Chipotle pewter bowl lid in front of her crotch, bent slightly to mimic a vulva — female genitalia like fast food. In Plate 15, Hubbs faces the camera, seated in a metal folding chair, and holds two fake breasts above her own. At first glance I thought his arms were lined too until I recognized his tattoos. It’s like it’s proliferating, growing multiple appendages. Milk flows from her outstretched mouth, flowing down the center of her chest. It leaks under the fake breasts and cascades down the length of his torso, soaking his black lace underwear and the crotch of his acid wash jeans. Breast Milk, Wet Pussy: Hubbs breaks down the false divide between the maternal and sexual body and it’s funny LOL. Witness Board 8 for emoji humor. Dressed in a python-print jumpsuit, Hubbs stands facing the camera, stretching the strip of taupe pantyhose across her stomach with two tennis balls and an eggplant stretched to her crotch. There is a thread in her stocking that slides down her leg.

Hubbs’ comedic delivery is sharp, but she has different stakes in the game. She’s not interested in punchlines or drops or the gag of substituting her real body in the airbrushed paintings of porn. Example: there are no money shots in the book, no surrender humiliations. His performance swaps the animation that powers the slapstick, which is to make you the butt of the joke, for something else. Her photographs harness the energy of desire and fury to encounter the relentless forces that rigidly control and punish the agency of female sexuality. I feel this gravity in these photographs, the undertow of fatigue, a banal experience for women. Hubbs turns to porn for his visual language but it’s his homages to Francesca Woodman and Jo Ann Callis, artists who also entangle themselves with female pleasure, who are his true interlocutors in say like that. In each photograph, I imagine him thinking: how does that make me feel? With a somatic sigh, Hubbs taps into a vein of feelings about what it’s like to live in a female body with all its impulses, vulnerabilities and contradictions in a culture with little ability to imagine those subjectivities. His photographs illustrate the excessive magnitude of this experience, retaining the fleeting tension between being and seeing with ambivalence and generosity.

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Laura Larson is a photographer, writer and teacher based in Columbus, OH. She has exhibited her work extensively, in venues such as Art in General, Bronx Museum of the Arts, Center Pompidou, Columbus Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, SFCamerawork and Wexner Center for the Arts and is held in the collections of the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Deutsche Bank, Margulies Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Microsoft, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, New York Public Library, and Whitney Museum of American Art. hidden mother (Saint Lucy Books, 2017), her first book, was shortlisted for the Aperture-Paris Photo First Photo Book Prize. Larson is currently working on a new book, City of Incurable Women (forthcoming from Saint Lucy Books) and a collaborative book with writer Christine Hume, All the women I know.

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