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By Matthew Nash

Currenlty on view at Gallery Kayafas are two exhibitions of photographs that challenge the stance of the viewer. Amy Montali's large color photographs, and Jess T. Dugan's smaller black-and-white images, each present moments in which the subjects offer something unexpected, perhaps a glimpse into a secret world or a life of tough decisions. They are images that do not always scream for attention, but each creates a private world where the subject and the viewer are carefully intertwined.

Montali's series, simply titled "New Work", offers a collection of private moments and gestures. Each image features a single woman, seemingly caught in the midst of a private moment. The viewer is often left with a sense that they are intruding, or witnessing something that they should not. In September, for example, we catch a glimpse of rainbow-colored panties through a tangle of sunflowers, the face of the subject hidden by a fluttering leaf. Likewise in Slip, we are offered a glimpse of a nude woman bathing, only her shoulder visible through a cracked doorway, seen down a long sunlit hall.

These images are not about photographic moments so much as they are about those times when we feel uncomfortable, when social norms conflict with real life interactions. They are a sampling of those grey areas, when we want to look but know we should look away. Even as her subjects seem so alive and engrossed in their own lives, we feel our presence intruding on their thoughts, their actions. At their best, these images are masterful and subtle, sometimes haunting, or funny, or mundane. They are a view of the life that often happens away from the camera, the moments never recorded for the future, and they ask questions about what we allow ourselves to see.

Dugan's images are also about observational stance, but in quite a different way than Montali. Here portraits consistenly offer a vision of "toughness" that is frequently undercut by the gestures and poses of the characters. In Dad After Work we see Dugan's father in a camoflage Air Force uniform, an image that could be about tough military discipline. Instead, her father looks calm and loving, his shoulders slouched and his face barely fighting back a smile. Hannah In Drag also offers this mix of tough posture and dress, but undercuts that image with a sort of preposterous over-accentuation.

While looking at Dugan's images, I was struck by what a strong presence the photographer had in the work. At first I thought that it was her choice of subjects that was coming through, these people unable to maintain their facade in front of the camera, but I realized that it was Dugan herself that was coaxing this humanity out of these subjects. It takes a careful and thoughtful photographer to help a person feel that they can let their guard down with a large-format camera pointed at them, and in exploring her images it becomes clear that these images are about how people create their personal narratives and hide behind them, and what it takes to get behind those facades and find a human connection.

Amy Montali's "New Work" and Jess T. Dugan's "Rectitude" are both quiet shows, about humanity and personal connection. The pairing of the artists works very well in Kayafas' small gallery, and the two bodies of work are always in conversation with each other. They are shows that require time and patience to appreciate, but are rewarding for the effort.

Gallery Kayafas

"Amy Montali: New Work" & "Jess T. Dugan: Rectitude" are on view September 5 - October 11, 2008 at Gallery Kayafas.

All images are courtesy of the artist and Gallery Kayafas.


About Author

Matthew Nash is the founder of Big Red & Shiny. He is Associate Professor of Photography and New Media at the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University and was the 2011-12 Chair of the University Faculty Assembly. Nash is half of the artist collaborative Harvey Loves Harvey, who are currently represented by Gallery Kayafas in Boston and have exhibited in numerous venues since 1992.

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