Local photographer returns with project four years in the making
Heather Bennett’s photography often leads her on a quest for objects like classic cars, vintage dresses and snakeskin purses. Sometimes the props are a little stranger. During one shoot Bennett searched for a pair of brass knuckles, but had no luck. Bennett's friend was a model for the shoot, and surprised Bennett. He offered to let her use his pair.
“I was like why do two of my friends have brass knuckles? I was a little shocked by that,” said the photographer.
Although Bennett is describing a series she took years ago, her approach was similar while producing the images for the show “Four Stories,” which opens at Bruno David Projects Thursday. Bennett’s honed the approach as a commentary on female representation in the public sphere. She said she aims to capture the multiple perspectives and competing pop culture and personal mythologies a woman holds in her mind while walking though the world.
“It’s about how I walk around and have this certain point of view and all these things that play into that and influence that and bringing that to the viewer and making them question what’s in her head,” said the artist.
Bennett sat in the gallery surrounded by images waiting to be hung, propped on carpeted blocks and resting against the wall, as she discussed the multiple perspectives a women contends with each day. She said she wants her work to contradict the idea that a woman is defined by one particular facet of her personality.
“It’s about getting away from the assumed female subject that’s so ingrained it’s become kind of comic,” she said. “It’s about how our hegemonic subject becomes impoverished as well. It’s about opening it all back up.”
The show features images referencing fashion photography and suggests classic American narratives while remaining storyless. The characters' looks are pulled from '50s rebel movies and '70s pulp films, yet Bennett maintains there’s no story behind the characters. It’s a practice devised to address female audiences in particular.
“It’s directed at women and certain types of assumptions that these types of clichés bring about in the mind of a viewer. I want that idea to open up a multiplicity of voices,” the artist said.
The Four Stories series started in 2011 and was previously displayed at Stephan Stoyanov Gallery in New York. The images at Bruno David expand the project and include new imagery. Bennett’s description of her shoots sounds like movie sets. The photographer is responsible for scheduling models, gathering props and catering.
Bennett grew up in St. Louis and attended graduate school at Hunter College in New York where she stayed for 13 years after graduation before returning to St. Louis. Even while she lived in New York. the photographer worked in St. Louis, using friends and family as models. This practice never fails to teach her something new about the people closest to her.
“You think you know their personality, you think you’ll know how they’ll be on camera, they always surprise you,” she said.
Bennett said this approach also achieves better results.
“That intimacy somehow comes across on film and can make the difference between a good photograph and a great one,” she said.
Gallery director Keri Roberson wanted to host the images because they suggest a story untold and maintain an air of mystery.
“Really as you look at it you wonder just what’s really happening,” she said.
Robertson said the questions regarding female representation fit perfectly with the gallery’s mission of focusing on female artists.
“The various issues that each of these pictures brings up are very close to our beliefs,” she said.
Bruno David said the gallery was interested in showing the Bennett’s photography after showing her video work on multiple occasions. David thinks all viewers will find something personal in the images.
“I think people are going to come here and relate to some of them. Everybody has a different personality and they will see themselves in it.”
The show runs through April 11.