Work by Craig Doty
“Every woman is different. Basically they seem to be a combination of the best and the worst- both magic and terrible. I’m glad they exist, however.” – from Charles Bukowski’s “Women”
Craig Doty has always held an interest in the powerless subject. This has typically taken the form of youths in group self-destruction, in situations of pure vanity, glory, and depravity. Resisting the overwrought casual aesthetic of any late-night party photographer, and the ease of such documentation, Doty’s images use their contrivances to develop something more potent. Never moralizing, never sympathizing, they have the presence of an aestheticizing influence that evades being responsible or negligent, as ethically resigned as any one night stand, fist fight, or hearty three-day bender.
Two young men forcing another to eat a goldfish, or restraining a fat friend and pouring milk all over him, these are simple dramas that initially defined Doty’s work. The images of drunken boys that have been “chiefed” draw from the same vein; their unconscious shit-faced faces vandalized with absurdly homophobic messages like “I Heart Cock” and “Nothing But Dude” make a travesty of young masculinity. Of course, Doty wouldn’t let himself escape his approach. In one of his better known works, drunk coming down a wooden backyard staircase, Doty himself has slipped and fallen forward, smashing his 40 oz. and his face in the process. Where moments earlier he may have been holding court, we now stop to look at what a failure he has become, a reflexivity that acknowledges that no one escapes the fatalism of our world.
Made both magic and terrible, Doty’s new photographs of women push for a greater discomfort. The tactics of humor have dissolved; the optimism of comedy is squelched. The grimace and sadistic chuckle that was present is absent, the aesthetic is now far more cynical. Caught between rough historical references to Balthus or Fragonard and the amateur soft-porn advertising that we commonly associated with brands like American Apparel, it would be easy to say these images are harsh parodies of the common sexism we find in mass media and art history, but that’s simply not true. Locating this banal critique is a futile task, and rather than make a work so easily legible, Doty opts for something less explicable. The subjects, the women presented are without any power, without any right, without any value, so much so that they are better referred to as objects. Flattening the drama, each photo is isolated, its subject made prone and made tragic. Vacillating between subtlety of “Untitled 19” and severity of “Untitled 24”, the images make not attempt to either assert or subvert any gaze, having either would comprise the work’s objectivity. Instead, “Untitled 24” stands glancing sideways towards the lens. Her hands clasped around her growing belly, her cast silhouette on the wall underscores that she is just like anything else in the picture, a clown, a kitsch object sitting through the tedium and slowness of life.
While the exhibition’s smart-assed and antagonistic title might suggest otherwise, the images themselves defy being determined by gender. Each is aesthetic, prior to being political, and they demand this initial interpretation. What would otherwise be recognized as a subject is shown as an object. With each image pointing out that no one escapes life seeing them as an object, claims of discrimination are deadened. Being distinguished as an object rejects affiliation with any group, it is sexless, race-less, and hopeless in its dearth of humanity. Works like “Untitled 22” and “ Untitled 25” are epitomic of that. In the first, a woman wearing only a thong lies on the ground, the right leg slightly lifted, she’s positioned facing away from us so that we know her only by form of her thighs and the black fabric that hides her crotch. While Doty’s technical aptitude is ever present, the set looks slapdash, a painter roller still wet leans against the wall, and a plant gives the illusion of an ambiance. This is not portraiture, these are not models, any thematic pretenses for the purpose of dignity are unneeded when we address the subject whose fate is to be an object. Instead of the socially constructed victim, the marginalized or mistreated subject, what is presented is the subject so tragic it has no subjectivity to assert, determined to exist depersonalized, determined to be the waste they must become.