Truth in a Portrait: Matthew Finley at Martine Chaisson Gallery
Ashley L. Voss thinks about how photographer Matthew Finley captures the vulnerability of his models in his current show at Martine Chaisson Gallery.
A syrupy solution glides across an aluminum plate; the sheen of collodion is tempting. Unable to resist, silver nitrate affixes itself, attracted to the possibility of creation. This exchange causes the plate to become light-sensitive. Housed within the protection of a wooden camera, the plate awaits, unaware of potential exposure. “Fragile,” Matthew Finley’s series of black-and-white tintype photographs on display at Martine Chaisson Gallery, uses a wet-plate process to capture the interconnectedness between his photographic practice and his models.
A nude woman clasps her knees within the comforting confines of a cardboard box in Her fragile heart would not be handled with such ham-handedness again., 2014. The lengthy artwork title prompts a narrative suggesting her inner struggles. As she remains still, the aluminum plate witnesses her defenselessness. She is alone; her hunched posture seemingly strains under the compression of the stack of surrounding boxes. A forced observer, the plate continues to document her defeat. Commonly used to protect their contents from physical harm, the boxes are not serving their literal function here. The innocent desire to find safety in shelter leaves both the model and plate exposed, her innermost insecurities revealed and now recorded.
Relieved from its voyeuristic duty, the plate is covered. Developer washes over the image to prevent the light from further altering the memory—the vivid recollection of cardboard and desperation. The repetitive grid of boxes relinquishing prominence to a nude form, her body becomes a mere object on display, bereft of identity. Fixer applied to the plate’s surface soothes the image’s transformation from negative to positive.
A sincere rapport is established in this process between subject and photographer. As an image is captured when the plate is exposed to light for nearly half a minute, Finley’s models are required to maintain each pose for the same amount of time. Allowing oneself to be vulnerably on display requires strong self-awareness. In She had her coffee, and her spot in the self-help aisle was free. It was a good day., 2014, a woman retreats to child’s pose. A wave of corrugated cardboard follows the curve of her back. Bubble wrap breathes beneath her weight.
In “Fragile,” Finley’s subjects embrace the shelter provided by manufactured packaging materials. Their inhibition is immortalized. Finley reminds us that presenting an inauthentic self to others is an act of desolation. Self-consciousness is an inherent shortcoming, hopefully lessened by each exposure. After all, once the image is made, all that remains is a portrait.
Matthew Finley’s “Fragile” is on view through January 28, 2017, at Martine Chaisson Gallery (727 Camp Street) in New Orleans.