It is readily apparent why Hagedorn Foundation Gallery paired photographers Kristine Potter and Jeremy Chandler in “Camouflage,” on view through February 12. Beyond the commonality of the portraiture of men in the titular clothing, both have a keen appreciation for the role of the hyper-masculine within societal constructs and the power of gender performativity. Moreover, they both display an ability to play with the concept of gaze in such a way that the strength of the images lies in the objectification of these men and, occasionally, in the revelation of the “feminine.”
Potter’s compositions from the black-and-white “Gray Line” series center on carefully posed uniformed West Point cadets, singly and in groups, in rugged yet somehow intimate outdoor settings. Their body language and arrangement echo the figurative poses of classical paintings, which imbues the images with a suggestion of narrative and the figures with an archetypal aura.
In one untitled photograph (above), a single man in camo rests languidly in his tableau, blending with his background and offering the viewer a steady gaze — in so doing, he is both subject and object –projecting a sense of vulnerability that belies the virility of his military role. Here the transgressive “odalisque” provides fodder for the heterosexual female and homosexual male spectator, and thus removes the conditioning orientation of the gaze itself.
In her most successful portraits here, Potter provides a portal into the male military psyche that also provokes questions about traditional patriarchal hierarchies and their toll on the individual. She says she “wanted to understand the organization of violence and power … and to humanize the tough exteriors of these men.”
But how much of the self is sacrificed in the call to duty? Beyond mere expectations of allegiance and national pride, in the age of “don’t ask, don’t tell” this is a loaded question. In this sense, the camouflage acts as both a leveler and a blind, obscuring the humanity of the man beneath.
Chandler, too, is concerned with male-driven narratives. His subjects are hunters engaged with the natural environment and shown in lush and colorful cinematic vistas. Just as Potter eschews any depiction of war or physical combat, the prey is never present in Chandler’s sporting narratives; it is, ultimately, beside the point.
The artist seems interested in the relationships among men and how they are shaped by the expectations of traditional gender-based stereotypes. His images offer subversion of gender norms: ghillie suits are created by masses of wildflowers, and men in camo face masks resemble women in Muslim burkas.
Interestingly, Potter has also made symbolic images of huntsmen and addressed similar themes. A series on her father hunting in the Georgia woods allowed her to investigate her complex reaction to the act of hunting, its male dominance and its impact on her personal relationships.
Chandler’s hunting images may be less fraught with anxiety, but, as the Florida native offers, his photographs share a notion of place and a fascination for the ritualistic aspects of hunting.
His work exhibits an interest in the perpetuation of certain mythological tropes in depictions of the American landscape, specifically those populated by men who are actively engaged in outdoor sports and recreation. Taking inspiration from 19th-century sporting periodicals, his images are transgressive — mainly through the passivity of the subjects.
Although we know that the young men depicted are engaged in the “masculine” act of hunting, Chandler presents them posed sedately in verdant landscapes, under blue skies and beside roiling rivers. We are left to question whether these men are reinforcing or breaking down the constraints of cultural norms — or, perhaps, neither. It is our consideration of the parameters that is important.
In their exploration of gender and objectification, both artists play with the theme of the fetishization of male prowess and move beyond it. The hyper-masculine roles of military men and hunters are obviously fertile ground for this type of exploration. Potter and Chandler offer oppositional gazes that challenge and deconstruct the traditional male gaze, creating a fetishized subject that is more nuanced. Beneath the “camouflage” of traditional gendered attributes, we glimpse the anxiety of the individual. We are left to consider the man beneath the image, the pressures of societal roles and the shifting meanings of masculinity and femininity.
Reception: 6-8:30 p.m. January 12. Artists’ talk: 1-2 p.m. January 14.