blackbird spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1




 Aura, process video, 2003
 Pantone marker on drawing paper


Laura Lark’s video Aura documents the incremental production of one of her pointillist renderings of photographs from the 1960s and ’70s fashion magazines that she grew up paging through with her mother and grandmother. Using an overhead projector, she cast the image of one of these photos onto a 10 x 12 inch sheet of drawing paper. She then reproduced it by stippling with Pantone marker and, once she finished the video, threw the drawing away.

Lark has made most of her reproductions of fashion photos on much, much larger pieces of Tyvek, measuring approximately 130 x 84 inches. Tyvek is a lightweight, industrial material that she chose in part for its kinship to fabric and thus its resonance with fashion. You may have seen the stuff covering houses under construction.

Lark would hang large pieces of this material on the interior walls of her backyard studio, and devote about a month per image to reproducing a photo point by point, craning on top of the precarious towers of furniture that she would devise in order to reach the portion of the image that she was working on at the moment. In the process, Lark has permanently damaged her arm as well as her eyesight. In this determined and painful fashion, she has enlarged fashion models to billboard proportions.

primp indigo

By contrast, this video offers a miniature of a miniature of a body of works that in the gallery are larger than life. Lark here greatly concentrates the image and, with the addition of instrumental music that may date from roughly the period of the source photograph, turns its production into a little lyric or music video. If Lark’s pointillist works help to deconstruct fashion photography by exposing the images’ constituent parts, the video relentlessly points out, dot by dot, that this image is also a construction, and suggests that fashion photographs and even beauty are as well.

primp indigo

Back in the day when painters specialized in miniatures, writers regularly debated the issue of women painting. Yet they were arguing about women painting their faces, not canvas or anything else. By the time that advertisers published the photos that Lark reproduces by hand, centuries later, cosmetics had long ceased to occasion such debate. Lark’s work, however, provokes questions about the social function of fashion photography. And it does so, in no small part, by cannily confusing these two types of painting. If a photo of, say, a model applying makeup compels women to do the same (that is, to do the sort of painting that women provocatively started to do in the early modern period), Lark intelligently responds by doing the other sort of painting (which men almost invariably did at the time).

If such a photo urges women to try to reproduce the beauty before them with their own bare hands, no matter how impossible, Lark accepts the impossible task of reproducing the image by hand—only on paper or Tyvek. She seems to discern the implicit command or assignment in fashion photography, to take it literally, but also to reconfigure it so as to demonstrate its absurdity and the obsession that it promotes.

intense concentration
roll over for detail

Lark explains that fashion photography has long operated for her as “a mute source of both inspiration and admonishment—a fantasy that might be attained if only I had the right accessories and stood perfectly still in the proper light.” She describes her pointillist method as an attempt, both earnest and painful, “to faithfully recreate the image” while simultaneously emphasizing “the futility of the obsession and the inability to fully concretize my desires.” And she calls these works “the stain of ephemera: the ghost of countless thumbed-through magazines that have permeated my psyche.”

--Joshua Eckhardt