"I can't stress enough how fun this project was," beamed Logan Rollins as he welcomed audiences to his MFA Photography thesis exhibition entitled "Makeshift Theatre." A selection of 15 audacious portraits, the show explored the representation of homosexual identity through campy, anti-aesthetic techniques.
His sitters—various shirtless, suggestive and flamboyantly made-up men—share, despite their varying traits, one consistency: the fact that they're all gay. "It was important not to include straight models, for the show's integrity," noted a thoughtful Rollins as he surveyed his well-hung and beautifully lit exhibit.
Rollins said he initially thought of himself as a much more serious artist. As he conceptualized this body of work, however, he realized that he had to scrap that serious self-perception. His willingness to loosen up and break his medium's rules was the point of departure for the glam and gaudy portraits of "Makeshift Theatre."
Where a more sober presentation of his chosen subject matter would have prompted reflection on the complex alchemy behind the formation of the self, Rollins's photographs call attention to the superficial, performative aspects of identity by presenting distinct gay stereotypes. "These are 15 out of 70 images total for this body of work. I couldn't have more than one portrait say the same thing for this show."
By breaking the conventions of taste and technique, Rollins sought to free his portraits from the constraints of the photographic tradition. His practice, then, conveys an affinity for imperfection and impropriety, two essential features of authentic identity construction.
"Makeshift Theatre" came to fruition in a year that has seen key GLBTQ rights come to the fore of the national conversation. With the public perception of these lifestyles shifting, Rollins offers viewers the opportunity to test their expectations of what it is to be gay and look the part.
Figures' poses, garments and countenances evince Rollins's position as director of this makeshift theatre. "I shoot more like film, so where some photographers will take 400 shots or more, 60 or 70 is a lot for me. It's planned out—less posed, but very directorial."
The portraits achieved, then, a strong balance between finish and fun. From "Youth in Repost (Houseboy)," the show's signature image of a reclining youth in leopard-print boy shorts with broom in hand, to the barrette-sporting blonde sitter gripping an archer's bow in "Scout Nouveau," the typology of stereotypes Rollins builds explores how gay and straight cultures heroicize, eroticize and glamorize the gay body and identity.
Since his approach is so kitschy, the photographs in sum amount to more than an over-sexualized arrangement of various notions of gayness. "Makeshift Theatre" embraces questionable choices, doing things incorrectly and laughing about mistakes. Rollins's anti-aesthetic tactics thus communicate a sense of ease with oneself and one's social context. His practice reminds beholders that any identity—gay, straight or somewhere in between—is a performance.
'Tis the Thesis Season
Rollins's show was just one of many events going on around town this past weekend. Gina Phillips presented her MFA Photography thesis, "Syzygy," at Non-Fiction Gallery. Like Rollins, Phillips interrogates identity in its socio-cultural context through testing the functions and mechanisms of photography. Her diverse work took the form of prints, light projections and photo-sculptural installations, and illustrated how opposing, seemingly irreconcilable forces constitute the richness of interior life.
At Oglethorpe Gallery, Kate Wimer presented "Touchstones," which contrasted images of Wimer's Minnesota hometown with Savannahian sights and settings, articulating how the artist weaves together various spaces to construct a representation of home.
Barely 15 minutes walking distance from each other, Oglethorpe, Non-Fiction and Ashmore routinely offer locals quality exhibitions in a range of mediums. Those venues' calendars are particularly full this month.
Thesis season is in full swing this time of the year, with talented MFA candidates showing praiseworthy work over the next few weeks. With no entrance fees, free refreshments and stunning art on view, the hardest work necessary for gallery hopping come Friday night is to throw on a pair of walking shoes.