Philip-Lorca diCorcia: Lucky 13 - PaceWildenstein, NYC

pace.jpgPhilip-Lorca diCorcia’s “Lucky 13” is a collection of thirteen full-body portraits. His subjects are pole dancers at work. Some people will be dismayed by his choice to shoot these women. Others will be disappointed by his impartial eye, which doesn’t glamorize or vilify them. As for me, I was floored.

It’s become trendy to talk about the “mainstreaming” of the sex industry. However, most images of sex work tend to be informed by one of two ideologies. According to the first, sex work is de facto awful and everyone who does it is a victim, or pure evil. According to the second, sex work is endless fun, and everyone who claims to have been hurt or exploited by the industry is a liar, and pure evil. “Lucky 13” belongs to neither camp. The women in diCorcia’s portraits don’t look tragic, nor do they look like they’re having the time of their lives. They look like women at work.

To state the obvious: all the subjects of “Lucky 13” are in various stages of undress. So are lots of the female subjects at the Met and the Louvre. But this is no Odalisque, with a naked woman lying passively on display. These women are in action, which gives them a sort of power. You have to respect the athleticism of their performance. DiCorcia catches them in incredible poses, holding themselves in the air with one hand on the pole, with two legs wrapped on the pole, with one leg wrapped around the pole, with what looks like nothing. He places emphasis on the performance, and not its context, by shooting the dancers in empty clubs and by illuminating them with a harsh white spotlight, placed directly above the frame. This light shows dust on the soles of their feet, wrinkles, scars, the sheen of sweat on a dancer’s chest, and the way that the pole tugs at the skin of another woman’s stomach. It makes them human. It also emphasizes their remarkable physical strength. These women have muscles: pronounced, tensed, capable muscles, the lines of which are shown up by the black shadows cast in that hard white light. They’ve arranged their practiced bodies into states of extraordinary grace. The women of “Lucky 13” are not only athletes, they’re artists in their own right. DiCorcia doesn’t portray them as desired bodies, or debated bodies, but rather as extraordinary examples of the human body and its potential.

DiCorcia’s trademark strategy of shooting his subjects with blank expressions shields them from any critical attempts to disrupt the privacy of their inner lives. At one moment, the dancers looked far away, lost in thought; in the next moment, the same pictures seemed to show a professional concentration on the moment and the work that had to be done. It’s impossible to judge the subjects of “Lucky 13”; everyone who looks at them is likely to take away a different picture. - Sady O.

“Lucky 13” is showing through Oct. 8th at PaceWildenstein (534 W. 25th St.). For more information, call (212) 929-7000.

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Ms. Sady O. is a poet, essayist, and cultural critic. She also writes the Brain Porn Culture Blog.

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