Leigh Ledare convinced his recently remarried ex-wife of five years, five years after divorce, to spend three nights in a remote cabin in Upstate New York with him photographing her. Two months later, he asked her to repeat the same trip with her current husband, also a photographer, who would take pictures of her and hand over his unprocessed rolls of film.
The result is two sets of black-and-white images, totaling about 1000, every one of which Ledare printed and presents in “Double Bind,” an immersive installation occupying the back room of his eponymous gallery show at Mitchell-Innes & Nash in Chelsea (through April 26). Though less provocative than some of his earlier work, having in part made a name for himself with unsettlingly intimate portraits of his own mother in various post-coital situations, the show is still very strangely compelling.
The pictures are overdeveloped, with deep blacks and mostly blown-out whites, a high contrast that at times gives off the look of old surveillance photography. Printed for the most part on thin, intimate, postcard-sized fiber paper, which curls intensely at the edges, Ledare’s images are framed in black, and his ex-wife’s husband’s, in white. Often, the prints are set atop what he calls “ephemera” — vintage porn, postcards, LIFE magazine ads.
Far from revealing truths about the photographer-subject relationship and its implicit influence on the the image, these photographs work to resists interpretation. Style is remarkably consistent across the two sets, with a heavy recurrence of common erotic tropes and the few settings and scenarios graced by natural light in the cabin. Though they are clearly marked, it is almost never instantly apparent whose photographs are which.
Despite the seemingly intense exposure of Ledare’s ex-wife, through two ostensibly competing male gazes, the pictures tend to tell us nothing at all about who she really is, to him, other him, or us. Gestures and expressions are often unreadable beyond the surface and a sense of anonymity frustrates any insights we think we might have gained into their personal and photographic dynamic.
The volume of prints, bearing the project’s entire process, also gives the show a dizzying contact-sheet feel, kind of like Daido Moriyama’s Labyrinth. It can be unsettlingly overwhelming at times, but in a good way, and you might just walk out reconsidering what you once thought about photography, and relationships.
“Double Bind,” Leigh Ledare, Mar 21 – Apr 26, Mitchell-Innes & Nash, Chelsea (Images: Leigh Ledare—Courtesy of Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York)