Review of Patty Carroll’s photography exhibition ‘Anonymous Women: Camouflage and Calamity’

Review of Patty Carroll’s photography exhibition ‘Anonymous Women: Camouflage and Calamity’

Carroll’s immaculately composed and printed photographs delight the eye

I recently viewed an exhibition of photographs by Patty Carroll (American photographer born 1946) on a university campus near Nashville. The show called “Camouflage and Calamity” features 25 works from her project “Anonymous Women.”

Patty Carroll’s large format photographs are explosions of color and detail. Each image is a carefully composed profusion of patterns and objects. In most of them, a single female figure (in fact, a store mannequin) is literally submerged into the chaos — lost among the abundance of her own life.

Carroll’s work explores questions of femininity, domesticity, consumerism, and identity. Some of the photographs are humorous while others are more mysterious.

Because the figures in her photographs are wrapped, camouflaged, or otherwise hidden, she refers to them as “unportraits.” She said in The Guardian, “It’s mysterious and kind of surreal, but it also denies you access to the identity of that person.”

Popular Photography described her compositions as “elaborate mise-en-scènes,” a French term that refers to theatrical staging or placement of items on a stage to help tell the story. It’s an appropriate observation. In the same article, Carroll is quoted as saying, “Home is a myth. Home is comfort, the most familiar place you can go. Home is also where personal psycho-dramas play out.”

Writing for Pixel Magazine in 2015, Emily von Hoffmann introduced Carroll’s work like this:

The feminine mythology Patty Carroll learned as a child centers on suburbia’s claustrophobic perfection. Feeling banished to her new home in England, Patty occupied herself with a project exploring the absurdities, joys, and conflicts she felt between her identity and her role as a homemaker. 

A presentation of one of Patty Carroll's vividly-colored photographs.
A presentation of one of Patty Carroll’s vividly-colored photographs, as seen in her recent show in Tennessee.

A biography of Carroll on the website for Sherry Leedy Gallery said:

Each is merged, concealed, overwhelmed and seemingly taken over by her excessive household trappings, careening toward the absurd. Her domestic demise looms large as she is inevitably done in by her own possessions and obsessions.

Even though each photograph is chock-full of so much — so much color; so much pattern; so much stuff — they still manage to be cohesive and beautiful. She said in an interview for The Cut that she sees the photo compositions as a dance, where she takes away objects, or adds more, or moves them around until everything is arranged just right.

The prints themselves are sumptuous and saturated with color. As a photographer who prints much of his own work, I am always curious and excited to examine other artist’s prints close-up. These prints are gorgeous — archival inkjets on satiny, luster surface paper enlarged to 36-inches square.

Patty Carroll has been a professor and teacher at many notable universities, including the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Royal College of Art in London. Her work has been exhibited in museums and galleries across the US, and in China and the UK.

The exhibition is thought-provoking, but even more than that, it’s visually rich and delightful. From the moment you enter the gallery, you know you’re in for something special. I print only black and white work, and I gravitate mostly to black and white photographs by other artists. Perhaps that’s why I was especially enthralled by Carroll’s big, bold, and unabashedly colorful images.

I witnessed a student studying one of her photographs intently for several minutes. Standing squarely before the photograph with notebook tucked underarm, he seemed determined to absorb everything from the complex image.

If you get an opportunity to see a showing of Patty’s work, don’t miss it. Her photographs are unforgettable.

Books by Patty Carroll

Carroll has published 5 photographic books including Anonymous Women (2016, Hardcover available on Amazon). The photographs depict beautifully photographed tableaux of women draped or wrapped in fabric.

Anonymous Women book by Patty Carroll.

Buy a copy of Anonymous Women on Amazon here.

Watch an interview with artist Patty Carroll

Thanks for reading!

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~ Keith

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