Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

The art series to which this essay refers will be on display in the First Things offices beginning on May 15, 2012. For more information on this exhibition, including details about an opening night event, please click here.

Our lives are centered and built upon innumerable complex relationships, which subconsciously we are constantly analyzing, changing, and developing. Although these moments of cross-examination frequently remain unacknowledged, they are the driving forces that shape who we are as individuals. They range from interactions with our physical and metaphysical space, to explorations of the interpersonal and the self. Lia Chavez’s series, 1000 Rainbows , takes on this vast and hazy subject matter, creating minimalist photographs that belie the depth of meaning and work that goes into each image.

At the very core of each of Chavez’s photographs is an intimate liaison between the artist and her model as they interact with and respond to each other via dance, light, music, and ideas. It is a cycle that starts with Chavez dancing and moving her body, which the model then begins to mimic. Working with various implements of light, Chavez highlights specific parts of the model’s body that are then captured by the camera. Because the developing relationship between the artist, model, and environment is the driving force Chavez uses to create her final image, she refrains from using digital manipulation techniques like Photoshop, which are so prevalent today. Instead she has developed a fusion of digital and analog photography that literally spotlights the convergence of the numerous relationships that create each image.

As part of her decision to not use digital manipulation in the creation of her photographs, Chavez has embraced the lack of ‘perfection’ or lack of complete symmetry in her work. In most of her images, there is a clear vertical or horizontal axis that the viewer wants to turn into a line of symmetry, but is thwarted each time. By maintaining these subtle moments of irregularity and asymmetry, Chavez is challenging the viewer to confront our ideals of perfection. Giving the viewer this moment of pause provides the opportunity for the realization that perfection lacks a valuable depth and complexity, which arises from the work required to reconcile ourselves to our own imperfections.

To take one striking example: In Andromeda , the highlighted arms and legs of the model arc in an irregular circle that is reminiscent of a flower or starburst. As the viewer contemplates the form created by the model’s arms and legs and takes into consideration the title of the work, new points of reference begin to emerge. Andromeda is a constellation of stars located in the northern sky, named after the princess in Greek mythology who was chained to a rock as a sacrifice to the sea monster, Cetus, but ultimately rescued by the hero Perseus. The Greek myth speaks to the idea that beauty can be found in tragedy, and that, while flawless endings are not always achieved, truth about humanity is always revealed in the striving.

Chavez’s aspiration to redeem what many have rejected is also manifest in her use of the nude human figure. With a history of being both objectified and idolized, Chavez uses her photographs to question how people view and relate to their bodies and the bodies of others. The viewer never sees the model’s face, and rarely sees the model’s entire body as each image consists of a composite of body parts that have been illuminated by Chavez. At first this may appear to stray towards objectifying the body, but her sensitive use of light blurs the image, and any devaluation of the body is undermined by the relationship of trust built between the artist and model, which is apparent in the final work. The photographs escape the pitfall of idolizing the nude figure.

This in turn may lead the viewer to contemplate a different foundation: Adam and Eve in the garden before the Fall. Both are beginnings filled with promise and hope for an unblemished future, but both are pre-determined for a marred existence. Adam and Eve’s inability to withstand temptation led to the corruption of all things and their separation from God. Here we see beauty and death mingled together, creating the imperfect existence that we experience everyday. But it is here in the flaws and blemishes that we find hope for redemption and reconciliation that we would never know or understand if it had not been broken. It is only after experiencing this darkness that we can feel the light and love of God’s presence.

What starts as working relationship between Chavez and her model to create a single work of art quickly becomes an intricate web of relationships and ideas that does not end when the photograph is printed. Rather, the final image is just a new beginning that allows the introduction of the viewer, deepening the relationship even more. But more importantly, these complex and flawed interactions are uplifted by the hope for redemption and reconciliation to which these photographs serve as witnesses.

Allison Peller is an independent art curator living in New York City. She is responsible for organizing First Things ’ upcoming exhibition of Lia Chavez’s 1000 Rainbows, which opens on May 15 .

Become a fan of First Things on Facebook , subscribe to First Things via RSS , and follow First Things on Twitter .

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter Web Exclusive Articles

Related Articles