June/July/Aug 2009

Woman Twirling

Albert Mobilio


Many of the figures in Jo Ann Callis’s photographs are blurred—they’ve been caught in the middle of something: A woman does the twist, skirt flying; a bare-chested fellow clutches his forehead. In these photos (like the one above, in which a young man wails or laughs—hard to say—as he thrashes backward in his chair), a piece of domestic hardware (a plant, a lamp, an electric fan) occupies the foreground like a sentinel insuring a semblance of normality in an otherwise unhinged scene. While Callis surely has a disquieting touch, one evocative of David Lynch’s stagy dreamscapes, her high-contrast prints, featuring detail that is almost stingingly sharp, temper rather than heighten this eerie mood. A chocolate-iced donut regally gleams on silvery linen, appearing philosophical in its repose (Ítre-en-soi); a glass of red wine sits like an orbiting planet just outside the wide arc of a reddish-stained tablecloth. Employing a visual poetry of odd angles and exaggerated formality, Callis reconceives the physical world as being as animate with possibility as her human subjects are alive with inward mystery. Hers are tableaux unmistakably vivants.

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