Thursday, November 8, 2012

Cass Bird: I Look Just Like My…

Cass Bird. American, born 1974. I Look Just Like My Mommy,2005. C-print. Purchased. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe. © 2011 Cass Bird. SC 2011:41-1

Cass Bird, who graduated from Smith College in 1999, works as both a fine art and commercial photographer in Brooklyn, NY. Her commercial work is often featured in the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, the New York Times Magazine, and many others. While her magazine work sensuously portrays celebrities, models, and pop culture icons, her photographs of friends, acquaintances, and inspirational figures are far more personal, challenging, and moving. Such portraits artfully explore the subjective and amorphous nature of gender in our contemporary society.

In I Look Just Like My Mommy,acquired by SCMA in 2011, Bird depicts her friend Macaulay on the rooftop of a Williamsburg apartment building. Macaulay stands shirtless, with breasts, tattoos, and underwear exposed. The portrait is strikingly beautiful; the sun’s soft glow illuminates both the Brooklyn skyline and the subject’s skin, but it is not just about mere aesthetics. With most of Macaulay’s face covered, we are left to explore the signs which we may typically associate with normative gender identities; breasts, hairless skin, and pink underwear exist alongside defined arm musculature, tattoos of guns, a bald eagle, and “ROCK & ROLL,” as well as a trucker hat which boldly states “I LOOK JUST LIKE MY DADDY.” (Of course, this last detail is even further complicated by the title of the photograph, which states the opposite.) Bird’s portrait asks viewers to acknowledge the inconsistencies of these signifiers in order to think beyond conventional, polarized ideas of gender, and ultimately, to recognize the individual underneath the posturing.

Regarding her work, Bird claims: “The photographs portray the beauty and the positive existence of these individuals, their male and female origins overridden by their own will to define their gender, sexuality, and place in society.” Cass Bird continues to photograph individuals whose lives and appearances operate outside the traditional gender dichotomy, as can be seen in her first book, Rewilding,which was published earlier this year.

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