Currently showing at the Tufts University Tisch Gallery is an exhibition by the photographer Lauren Greenfield titled "Girl Culture." Greenfield photographs girls and young women in various guises such as beauty queens, fashionistas, victims of body image, and as dominant members of the high school in-crowd to reflect the impact of American society on the female body. Stating that "these images are about the popular culture we share and the way the culture leaves its imprint on individuals in their most public and private moments," Greenfield photographs young women engaged within fluid forms of power and their nuanced expressions of identity.
The experience of seeing the show is a bit like going to an amusement park. The constant swaths of color and visual sensations collectively comprise an entertaining but entirely predictable experience. Around each corner is new terrain to delight, to titillate, to reflect on a path well worn and familiar. Just as the amusement park is a location for a simulation of danger and lack of control, "Girl Culture" is a simulation of concern, of insight.
This is not to say that Greenfield is not a talented and accomplished image-maker. The formal qualities of the photographs are dynamic and visually appealing, but the thematic elements enlighten the public in the manner of a daytime talk show. Lauren Greenfield, like Maury Povich, is shocked, SHOCKED, at the hyper-sexualized condition of young girls today and all too willing to expose this important issue in an easily consumable fashion. Pink and purple "Girl Culture" t-shirts, by the way, are available at the front desk.
Greenfield photographs in the oeuvre of Diane Arbus but, like Mary Ellen Mark, lacks not only the empathy of her predecessor, but the overall sense of kinship with her subject. Arbus photographs those on the periphery out of her own internalization of their similar condition, her images reveal as much about the photographer as the photographed. Where Arbus complicates her subject matter by presenting dissonance between her subject's facade and their personality within, Greenfield simplifies. A quick trip to Greenfield's website makes this all too clear. In the section marked Archive, one can see her various photographic series, including one labeled "Poverty in America" followed immediately by others called "Shopping with Sharon Osbourne," "The Teen Brain," and "Tween Consumerism."
This flippant voice is loudly apparent in this series as well. Were one to make a checklist of a reductive typology of girls, this show would fill every box. In Greenfield's world, popular girls are mean, beauty contestants are plastic, teenagers are spendthrifts, models are universally attractive and girls on the periphery of beauty are universally marginalized. In "Girl Culture," neatness is a virtue.
"Girl Culture" was on view until March 28th in the Tisch Gallery at the Aideckman Arts Center on the Tufts University campus in Medford, MA.
All images are courtesy of the artist, Tufts University, and the Stephen Cohen Gallery in Los Angeles, CA.