The familiar made strange

Jeanne Dunning, Hand Hole, 1994

Jeanne Dunning has always been good at making the familiar look strange. It was pictures of hairstyles that first drew me to her work but it was body and food pictures that I first saw in a gallery. In real life the prints were seductive and the images intriguingly strange. In part the defamiliarisation of the body in Hand Hole is down to the way the picture is composed, but it’s also about the scale of the image. Though Dunning’s prints are often modest in size, in images like Hand Hole there is still a shift from the human scale. Add to this the ambiguity of the image when seen along side similarly strange pictures of food.

Untitled Hole, 1993

In a way these could be seen as a simple recognition game but somehow they’re more than that. Yes, there’s often a double take when looking at Dunning’s photographs – is that an anus or a hand, just what am I looking at? – but her ability to transform the ordinary into the beautiful or the disgusting is more interesting than that alone.

Still Life with Melons and Plums, 2010

Dunning’s recent work references seventeen century vanitas painting but again there is a transformation that makes the images simultaneously seductive and disgusting. All the details are there: the lush folds of the fabric, wine and bowls of fruit. It’s just that the fruit is molding, as though the still life has been abandoned for days or maybe weeks. The images, somehow, are still beautiful. But I find myself imagining the smell and being very thankful that these are photographs.

Still Life with Grapes and Cheese, 2010

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