“Moti Mentali,” the title for the savvy show of photographs of children and adolescents at the Marvelli Gallery (526 West 26th Street, through November 15), comes from Leonardo da Vinci. Though its literal translation from the Italian—”the motions of the mind”—is rather clumsy, it does suggest da Vinci’s use of the phrase to describe portraits that allow us some insight into the sitter’s state of mind. Even if that insight is fleeting and mostly imaginary, the photographs Marvelli has chosen to evoke it are provocative, and the conversation he sets up among them is especially compelling.
The exhibition was apparently inspired by the obvious affinity between the work of several contemporary female photographers—Hellen van Meene, Rieneke Dijkstra, and Ingar Krauss—and their Victorian forebears Julia Margaret Cameron and Lewis Carroll. But Marvelli’s sensitive juxtaposition of the work renders this intricate web of attraction and influence anything but routine. Several of Cameron’s dark-eyed maidens appear to have been reincarnated in Krauss’s and van Meene’s young girls and one strikingly androgynous boy. Every flash of impudence, inwardness, and soulfulness finds its reflection within the room. Whether they were photographed in 1869 or earlier this year, all these subjects share a gravity and grace so lovely their impression is hard to shake.