In Bodis-Wollner’s artist’s statement for her “All Girls School” exhibit (up now at the Jen Bekman gallery), she writes:
These photographs stem from my preoccupation with the experience of disappointment amidst celebration. In this series, I focus on issues of trust, intimacy and betrayal in the friendships of women and girls; specifically how deception, unspoken exclusions, and discomfort are manifested in women’s body language and gestures.
I create the critical moment of a semi-unconscious inhibition and I look for where and how the tension just below the surface rests. Sometimes the perfect moment occurs when the gaze has landed onto a place of unselfconscious mistrust and introversion. I explore how gesture and gaze function to create an outsider, and the ways in which these visual clues shift ostracism from one subject to another both inside and outside the photograph.
Precisely. But what drew us to her pictures was the storytelling. Each shot has a dozen narratives that pop off the surface if you trace the subjects’ eyes. Admiration, frustration, loneliness, jealousy—it’s your 10-year high school reunion and big family dinner all rolled into a single uncomfortable moment.
You call the series “The All Girls School,” but only one image seems to come from a classroom, while the rest depict social situations—dinner, cocktails, chats, a birthday party.
The title is not meant to be literal. It is meant to refer to the unspoken, unconscious education that girls and women absorb through communication and gesture.
Do women and men behave differently when they’re feeling awkward at a party, or is there some similar breed in both sexes that’s inclined to feel awkward, in the same way?
I think the male manifestation of awkwardness in a social situation is quite different from the female version. However, I am focusing more on inclusion and exclusion than awkwardness. The body language of women being inclusive or exclusive is developed, intricate, and specific.
I was surprised by how much story seems to live in these pictures. Were they difficult to stage? Did you use actors?
They were staged with both friends and friends of friends, etc. None of them are actors. Many of the scenes are based on moments I have experienced or watched.
You say “these photographs stem from my preoccupation with the experience of disappointment amidst celebration”—have you had a really crappy birthday recently?
Actually I did have a number of crappy birthdays when I was a kid.
However, this statement refers to where the project came from. In a celebratory moment it is always fascinating to observe the hint of sadness that I feel accompanies the happiness.