Boy’s Life

Collier Schorr is one of the few photographers included in the 2002 Whitney Biennial (among the others: Janine Gordon, Vera Lutter, Ari Marcopoulos, Julie Moos), and it will be interesting to see what museumgoers make of her project there: pictures of a German schoolboy posed as Helga, the blond housewife Andrew Wyeth painted in secret. One photo from that series—of the pale, shirtless boy on his knees in a wheat field—is in the 303 office, and that image of touchingly awkward vulnerability finds a definite echo in Schorr's current exhibition.

As with Schorr's 1999 show here, virtually all the pictures are of young men—often shirtless, invariably quite handsome. To an almost obsessive degree, Schorr's photos seem to be about boyish masculinity, and if you didn't know she was queer herself, you'd probably assume they were taken by a gay man. But while Schorr often seems in thrall to her subjects, simple desire isn't the point. From the beginning, Schorr's work has been about androgyny, identity, and the construction and confusion of gender, so the question of attraction (hers and ours) is always complicated by ambiguity and artifice. Here, it's further muddled by the fact that many of the boys are dressed in Nazi uniforms—an illegal charade in Germany, where these photos were made, which accounts for their secluded, bucolic settings. Apparently, none of the uniforms are entirely authentic, but this flirtation with fascism adds a layer of perversity and taboo to the otherwise innocent proceedings.

And innocence (and its inevitable loss) is what Schorr seems to be investigating here. Her most ravishing photo is of a boy lounging in the shade of a cherry tree, one eye peering out from the dappled shadows, one bright red cherry winking at us front and center. Her nude sits in profile on the bank of a stream, as fragile as a fawn. Even the guys in uniform look more melancholy than menacing. Although it was Schorr who pressed them into this ragtag army, she treats them with a protective tenderness. Their sweet softness isn't long for this world, but Schorr (who perhaps only imagined it) preserves it lovingly here.

 
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