Katy Grannan

Fraenkel Gallery is pleased to present BOULEVARD, new color photographs by Katy Grannan. The exhibition will be on view from January 6 to February 19, 2011.

For the past three years Katy Grannan has roamed the streets of Los Angeles and San Francisco, photographing strangers. Her subjects are most often people whom others pass by without notice, anonymous individuals who have now been transformed by photography’s peculiar magic.

Grannan photographs her subjects in front of the type of white stucco walls that can be found anywhere. She works midday when the strong noon light, in tandem with the white walls, transforms her city streets into outdoor studios. The light is precise and indiscriminate, delineating in high-pitched detail Grannan’s hustlers, strutters, addicts and beauty queens. The timeless characters who populate Grannan’s Boulevards are a compendium of street types rendered with mesmerizing intensity, separated from their counterparts of past centuries by little more than costume or hairstyle.

Katy Grannan lives and works in Berkeley. Her work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, among others.

BOULEVARD is accompanied by an illustrated catalog published by Fraenkel Gallery and Salon 94, New York. This is Katy Grannan’s third solo exhibition at Fraenkel Gallery.

Katy Grannan’s new exhibition, Boulevard, at the Fraenkel Gallery, consists of twenty-five portraits, which, in this
talented photographer’s hands, amount to twenty-five short stories. Her subjects tell the stories of San Francisco’s and
Los Angeles’ hardened street culture, rich and profuse like a contemporary Canterbury Tales. See here how the woman
with weak knees has dressed her giraffe-print dress to match her beaded swan bag, while the man in drag has whiskers
peeking through densely rubbed on base; look at the shirtless, pierced, and decorated playboy with two tattoos of
scorpions, one twenty years old and one crisp and fresh.
Grannan has surrounded each of these figures with an aura of almost-white: stucco or painted plywood patterns reveal
under-layers of dirt and graffiti. The sun is always hot and high, setting long, macabre shadows across their faces. It’s
just not possible to maintain a facade, as many of Grannan’s figures sport eyeliner and lipstick that don’t quite match
up.
Produced digitally, each work is titled Anonymous, and Grannan’s subjects turn their eyes defiantly from her camera.
More “street” than posed, detailed ink, dirt, and stains hint at untold histories. One woman with a painted mole is
dressed in a Marilyn dress and wig. Her eyebrows furrowed in deep distress, she yearns for celebrity and finds
something of the sort through Grannan’s photograph.
Grannan established herself through portraits that pushed the boundary between reflection and exploitation of her
sitter’s identity. Half-clothed and reclined at awkward angles, her subjects rarely seemed comfortable in their nudity.
Grannan often channels Diane Arbus, as some of the rougher inhabitants of Boulevard are cast into the explicit lens of
high art (the exhibition’s press release calls them “hustlers, strutters, addicts and beauty queens”). Though Arbus’
exposés are still the subject of great controversy, her willingness to explore ineffable stories, as Grannan has taken to,
might have helped thin themargins of society. The photograph can, after all, transform oddity into celebrity.
It may be contentious ground, but there is no mistaking the gentle handling of the subjects of Boulevard. Grannan’s
photographs are heroically colorful, her subjects’ upturned perspectives dignified. They win a lively affectation, surely
the product of a great quantity of time and attention—elevated, endearing attention. And we all want a little attention.

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