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Cig Harvey
at Tilt Gallery, Phoenix, Arizona
Recommendation by Deborah Ross

Cig Harvey often inserts herself into witty and richly ambiguous color photographs that get you to create your own story.

“Life is ....”  Those two words often lead to a wonderful metaphor, something along the lines of “... a cabaret, my friend.” If you are the witty and thought-provoking Cig Harvey - who inserts herself into many of her works - you create the metaphor through color photographs that invite multiple meanings. Harvey, a noted magazine photographer and educator, takes care with every object and its placement; the attire and facial expression of every model (if it’s not Harvey herself in a vintage dress); and the available light and color intensity of every indoor and outdoor setting. And if you are Harvey you take away the glass over the 14-inch-square photographs to let viewers metaphorically enter the composition themselves and decide how the subject relates to their own lives.

“The Bowl of Cherries” (2007) is an example of how Harvey invites you to create your own story. The bright fruit is centered on a table, yet the perfection and optimism of the scene is marred - if you want to see it that way - by nearby red splotches, as if someone had trampled on the cherries and spitefully left footprints. A metaphor for life’s rocky relationships? Or consider “The Square Knot, Self Portrait” (2004), in which Harvey, dressed like a ‘50s housewife, is splayed across a tennis court, her roller skates tied together in a hopelessly tangled knot. Roller skates? Tied together? On a tennis court? It’s an apt metaphor for, say, a wife and mother who is feeling overwhelmed. On the other hand, Harvey’s face suggests serenity.

One of the show’s most powerful works is “The Hope Chest” (2007), in which Harvey is in a white-walled attic, empty save for the weathered chest she is hoisting in such a way that it obscures her face. What is life if we have only the burden of our hopes and dreams to hang onto? she seems to ask.

Harvey’s images are admirable not only for their narrative allure, but also for their technical quality, with the artist shooting on film using Hasselblad and Canon cameras. The show of only 11 works in this small gallery off the beaten path makes you yearn to see more of Harvey’s tableaux.

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