Settled uncertainty


“Being required to carry identification means we are never without a picture of ourselves,” begins the essay accompanying Ben Gest’s exhibition of enigmatic and oddly unsettling photographs at the Renaissance Society. “When are we at home with ourselves? Or more precisely, when are we at home in ourselves?” Gest’s photographs seem to capture people at moments of utter banality—moving a garden hose, lying on a couch, carrying a sleepy child to bed—a sense his titles reinforce: Eric Coming Back Inside, Alan with His Car still Running, Kate Fixing Her Earring, Samantha with Bags for William.

Yet the more one studies them, the less straightforward these portraits become. Looking less relaxed than their mundane suburban surroundings, the subjects gaze out of the frame. Their expressions are intense, introspective, disengaged from the situation at hand. As the exhibition essay puts it, “their demeanor suggests that the psyche has vacated the body’s premises.”

Ben Gest’s self-titled exhibition is on display through December 22. This Sunday Renaissance Society associate curator Hamza Walker will lead a gallery tour.


Photos: Melissa Holbert and Jessica Moss, both Smart Museum staffers, study Kate Fixing Her Earring (top); Ben Gest’s Jennifer in Her Rooftop Garden (bottom).

December 13, 2006