To the casual observer, looking at pin-up photographs for artistic reasons may be akin to reading Playboy for the articles. However, local photographer Jenn Alexander views the stylized, sexualized vintage portraits as something more valuable than titillating objects of a bygone era.
They are the inspiration for her latest series of photographs, entitled Alexander Girls and on display at Black Orchid Gallery throughout the month of May.
An accomplished photographer, Alexander has received numerous regional and national Press Awards for her photojournalism work in North Carolina before moving to Savannah.
Often working in black and white and focusing on the realism of her subjects, Alexander has had her work shown in Lacoste, France and at the prestigious Duke University Center for Documentary Studies, the later for her work depicting youth culture. She will be receiving her B.A. in photography this month from the Savannah College of Art and Design.
With Alexander Girls she has turned her fine arts education and photojournalism experiences to an American icon, the pin-up girl. By placing the vintage elements of the old illustrations within a more contemporary context, she breathes a fresh life into the classic depictions of femininity.
The series is at once an accessible and relevant commentary on the present culture of commercialized sexuality. Viewers of the images will be amused at the campy poses of the postwar period, and reminded of the realism found in a contemporary perspective.
The show contains 22 images of four amateur models and Alexander herself. Shot with a purposefully homemade look, they are attempts to show what she calls glimpses of a woman transformed into a pin-ups life.
Accompanying the photos will be a book of outtakes Alexander will have for guests to look through. The book of awkward and funny shots serves a dual purpose for the artist. It highlights how unnatural some of the pin-up poses are, she says, as well as allowing the audience to see the human side behind the pretty face.
When she first began the project, her photos were in a studio with perfect lighting and a blank white background. However, these photos were almost too technically sound to be authentic to the original spirit.
The old pin-ups were gritty, they were low-brow, says Alexander, explaining her use of less than ideal lighting and backgrounds.
Indeed, the settings are strikingly personal, taking place in the bedrooms, kitchens and domestic quarters of her models.
Several images have a familiar, pulpish feel to them. One shows a woman packing a suitcase with a bit of her dress caught in the luggage and a playfully surprised look on her face. Another has a woman lounging for no apparent reason, exquisitely positioned and framed by a complimentary blue curtain in the background. A pair of slippers in the corner serves to remind the audience that this is not a studio recreation, but rather a contemporary living room.
Despite the modern placement, the clothing, beauty styling and poses are authentic to their vintage roots. Explaining her meticulous costuming and styling, Alexander says she hopes to restore some of the glamour of the illustrations.
Fed up with pop culture depictions of unhealthy skinniness and the impersonal nature of the marketing of the stars themselves, Alexander seeks to update the girl-next-door charm found in the vintage illustrations: These photographs are not a vehicle to transport the viewer to the past, but to carry the spirit of a previous era forward. w
Alexander Girls will be on Display through May at Black Orchid Gallery, located at 131 Drayton St. For more information email Jenn Alexander at email@example.com.