The Gaze of Anne Collier
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The Gaze of Anne Collier

An exhibit of the critical photographer's feminist work kicks off at the AGO.

Collier and Darling. Photo by Samira Mohyeddin.

“I really look everywhere; it is what I do all the time.” –Anne Collier

As part of its Year of Photography, the Art Gallery of Ontario is geared up to present the first major solo exhibition of American contemporary photographer Anne Collier.

Curated by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago Chief Curator, Michael Darling, and co-ordinated by Kitty Scott, the AGO’s curator of contemporary art and modern art, the exhibition brings together 40 large-scale prints, including works from Collier’s signature series, “Woman with a Camera.”

Collier’s “Woman with a Camera” series looks at the act of photography and often takes to task the industry of photography itself, probing how captured images can influence society. In one instance, Collier repurposes photographs from photography magazine covers to expose how women’s bodies were often used to sell cameras to male photographers, turning the male gaze onto itself and questioning the very industry that she is a part of.

Well-known female icons from the 1960s through 1990s are depicted either selling cameras, with cameras or in front of cameras. Marilyn Monroe, Jacqueline Bisset, Cheryl Tiegs, Farrah Fawcett, Candice Bergen, and Faye Dunaway all make appearances in Collier’s work.

Prolific screen star Faye Dunaway plays a prominent role in the exhibition. As part of Collier’s “Woman with a Camera” series, the exhibition includes a slide sequence in which the film, Eyes of Laura Mars, starring Faye Dunaway as a photographer in 1970s New York City, has a single scene broken down by Collier and looped. Collier takes a single scene from the film and breaks it down into stills, allowing the viewer to have a different relationship with it. The series begins with Dunaway’s face completely covered by the camera; frame by frame as the scene progresses, the face of the photographer becomes revealed to the viewer. There is no message being hammered over our heads here. Instead, we are provided with a very intimate look at the camera lens and the eyes behind them.

This is exactly what Collier wants from the viewer.

“Her work does not need to be coddled and shepherded; we are free to interpret as we like, says Michael Darling, Chief Curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

That freedom of the viewer resonates throughout the exhibition and in Collier’s work itself. Her playful nature and interest in mass culture and appropriation can be found in her use of found objects, album covers, and mixtapes. She constantly locates herself within culture and, in doing so, provides a very personal relationship to it.

“I want the work to have a pathos as part of it, but in a subtle way,” says Collier.

Collier is as deadpan as her work. When asked about why she readily only utilizes images from the 1970s and 1980s she simply responded, “Because I am 44.”

The work offers throwbacks in form, as well. Unapologetic in her continued use of a 4-by-5-inch camera and her traditional forms of image production, Collier still uses chemical processing and printing. Don’t expect to see an iPhone series from the artist anytime soon.

“I only use Instagram to post pictures of my dog. I have been avoiding that situation,” said Collier.

At times humorous and at times providing a critical lens, Collier invades and examines photographic culture and the act of seeing. Her work will be on view on Level Four of the AGO’s Contemporary Tower beginning with a talk with the artist herself tonight at Jackman Hall and a public opening and reception after.

The exhibit runs until January 10, 2016. For more information, visit the AGO’s official site.