Water as Complex Metaphor in Mary West Quin’s Photographs In The Lionheart Gallery’s Summer Group Exhibition
by Douglas P. Clement
Photographer Mary West Quin, who lives and works in Mobile, Ala., grew up around the fishing camps and boats of the Gulf of Mexico’s barrier islands, and her work is influenced by the often-oppressive qualities of the Deep South. Not just heat and humidity but also lifestyle rituals, superficial niceties, and the social mores of the culture.
“Oppression is uncomfortable,” she says. “For me, it keeps me searching.” The searching takes place in the form of platinum palladium prints created with an 8x10 view camera, which distill and comment on the oppressive qualities of both climate and social conventions.
Moments in time that seem dispassionately frozen as permanent images turn out on closer inspection to be recordings of an existence weighted with nuances and complexities. Mary West Quin shoots the children from above, and the subjects have their eyes closed, masking any emotion. Their bodies, splayed for buoyancy, are motionless.
Titles such as “Baptism”, “Resurrection” and “Light and Water” suggest larger, more complex themes, and the sheer stillness of each scene imparts a narrative uncertainty.
Baptism, Mary West Quin
Resurrection, Mary West Quin
Light and Water, Mary West Quin
It’s the photographer’s technique that ultimately establishes the defining tone. Water in this case is stripped of the hues and tonalities that usually define its metaphorical qualities; here the water is presented only in greyscale.
Viewed one way, the children appear the opposite of free. They might instead be trapped in a hard surface like marble, their poses suggesting not the liberation of swimming, but rather being paralyzed by oppressive aspects of their ritualistic journeys of growing up in the Deep South.
The photograph entitled “The Hiding Tree” translates the feeling of water as both liberator and captor into the woods. Here a dark haired girl is seen inside a secret cave created by the way giant roots of a massive tree have grown. The girl is holding a small root, her head thrown backwards over her shoulders so her upside down face is facing the camera. The dark tones, the massiveness of the tree, the unusual pose, and the isolation of the woods—all of it creates a very Southern Gothic feeling, if not a sense of foreboding. “The Hiding Tree” is an image of Mary West Quin’s son, Emmitt.
Reflecting on Sally Mann, Mary West Quin
The Hiding Tree, Mary West Quin
Another image in the exhibit of a girl in a pool, eyes-closed, arms extended, confirms that Mary West Quin prefers an unflinching embrace of the emotional and societal complexities of growing up in the South. Entitled “Reflecting on Sally Mann”, it’s the equivalent of an artist’s statement written in just four words.
After earning a bachelor’s in Anthropology from Millsaps College, Mary West Quin received a master’s in philosophy from the University of Southern Mississippi, and then an MFA from Savannah College of Art and Design. She is clearly referencing the concerns of anthropology and philosophy in her photographs, which calmly probe “the nature of human existence, relationships, and the complex subtleties of living.” The Summer Group Exhibition continues through September 1.
The Lionheart Gallery is open Wednesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. For more information and directions to the gallery at 27 Westchester Avenue in Pound Ridge, N.Y., visit http://www.thelionheartgallery.com or call the gallery at 914.764.8689.