The Photo Show That Investigates Gender Relations in All Their Messy Glory

For this year's Photo50 exhibition in London, curator and critic Federica Chiocchetti focused her lens on the thorny subject of male and female relationships.

by Zing Tsjeng
Jan 16 2016, 10:00pm

Maya Rochat, "Crystal Clear Kiss." Photo courtesy of Photo50

With the Saatchi Gallery opening its first (and badly reviewed) all-female art show, women artists are having a bit of a moment—and photography is no different. This year's Photo50 exhibition, which forms part of the London Art Fair 2016, chose to examine the thorny issue of female representation in a different way: by looking at their relationship with men.

"When the London Art Fair invited me to be the guest curator... I felt the need to continue the 'women in photography' wave that seemed to be at the epicentre of the debate in 2015," says Federica Chiocchetti, a photography critic, editor, and curator who set up photo-literary platform The Photocaptionist in 2014.

"However, rather than putting together a curatorial project with gender, feminism and identity as the fil rouge of the narrative, I wanted to reflect on a specific theme that seemed a bit overlooked within the realm of photography exhibitions and women."

Elinor Carucci, "Eran almost touches me," 1999. Photo courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery

The exhibition collects work from both female and male photographers from all over the world, each one analyzing a fraught aspect of gender relations. Italy-based Francesca Catastini's tensely staged suburban portraits speak to a fear of paralyzing domesticity, while Russian photographer Ekaterina Anokhina's shot of grass-stained knees captures the sting and transience of heartbreak.

Chiocchetti believes that male and female are "often treated as binary oppositions, they are imbued with fossilized prejudices and clichés," and wanted to study gender as an object in constant flux— to "look at women and men in relation to one another, instead of focusing on gender as an individual entity." Some of the work in Photo50 eschews even the physical presence of men and women entirely, as in Jo Broughton's evocative images of abandoned and empty porn film sets.

Ekaterina Anokhina, from the series "25 Weeks of Winter." Photo courtesy of Photo50

"It was challenging to come up with a final list and I could go on for hours on how I got to select those 16," Chiocchetti says. "They all nurtured and informed each other as curating is not a linear process, at least not in my mind.

"You might start with reading endless material on the subject still unaware of how it might influence your decisions, then an artist comes to mind, then you move to the space, look at the floor plan and divide it into sections; then you remember another artist or image that could work quite well; then you realise there are some other media or cultural artefacts you want to include, you go back to reading and research, knowing very well that ultimately you will have to go back to the space, the walls, the centimetres. It's a pleasant and painful schizophrenic dance between all the above."

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While Photo50's lineup features 11 women, four men and the collective Discipula, Chiocchetti is agnostic on the idea that a certain artistic sensibility arose from photographers of either gender. "I guess it's problematic to talk about gender-based aesthetic or sensibility in any art form. If we ignore the gender of the author of a photograph it's highly unlikely and perhaps useless to try and infer it from the image. There are only good or not so good artists that have or lack a sensibility that conquers the viewer, regardless of their gender."

Photo50 runs as part of London Art Fair from January 20 to 24. Tickets are available here.

Natasha Caruana, "Upon the Steps," from the series "At First Sight," 2014-5. Photo courtesy of Photo50

Laia Abril, from the series "Tediousphilia," 2014. Photo courtesy of Photo50

Jo Broughton, "Ice Cave," from the series "Empty Porn Sets," 2010. Photo courtesy of Photo50

Mariken Wessels, "Henry My Neighbor, Taking Off" 2015, from the series "Taking Off." Photo courtesy of Photo50

Ekaterina Anokhina, from the series "25 Weeks of Winter." Photo courtesy of Photo50

Francesca Catastini, "Happy Together No. 6," 2010. Photo courtesy of Photo50

Jo Broughton, "Egg Shell pink set," from the series "Empty Porn Sets," 2010. Photo courtesy of Photo50