In the Walkway Gallery, photographer Darlene Kaczmarczyk (Grand Rapids, MI) will exhibit three series for the exhibit Domestic Disturbances. Kaczmarczyk’s recent work has been a re-imaging of mid-20th Century domestic life. The artist’s sense of irony tinges nostalgic vintage images with humor and biting commentary that comes with a half-century of hindsight. The three distinct series showcase different photographic techniques that blend perfectly with the vintage materials and enhance the artist’s message.
More than other media, photography invites the viewer to believe they are looking through a window of sorts. Many people believe that if they had been on the scene, they would have observed exactly what the photograph depicts. I use this confusion to seduce the viewer into the drama of my work. For the past few years, I’ve preferred to work in the fashion that the critic A.D. Coleman has defined as the “directorial mode,” where scenes are arranged in front of the camera. Coleman says, “The directorial mode peremptorily challenges our long-cherished assumptions about the transparency of the photograph, its purported neutrality, its presumed objectivity; insistently undermining the credibility of the photograph, it puts the image in question.”1
My recent work has been concerned with re-imaging mid-20th Century domestic life. Images of the perfect family, perfect wife, and perfect life dominated advertising and television in the 1950’s, a period critical to the visual sensibilities of the post-war generation. Fifty years after the fact, this imagery evokes nostalgia for less complex times, but the visuals are, of course, loaded with messages about expected behaviors and attitudes.
Mid-century advertising aimed at women often depicted mothers and daughters dressed in matching outfits, as if nothing but size separated the girl from her domestic future. Kitchen appliances and recipes for food also dominate magazine ads. Drastic changes in eating and shopping habits of the American public were hastened by advertisers creating markets for convenience foods created for military use during World War II, often resulting in Frankenstein-like creations such as the “Red Crest Salad” which combined tomatoes and pickles with strawberry Jell-O.
These facts inform the humorous images in Out of the Picture, which uses the format of a double-page spread and appropriated magazine imagery, along with narrative scenes I create for the camera. The skin tones of the women in the images are reduced to 50% opacity and their forms are outlined with white paper-doll style tabs. The ads from 1950’s era magazines act as foils to both subvert and reinforce the main image narrative. As artist Hank Willis Thomas says, “Advertising’s success rests on its ability to reinforce generalizations around race, gender, and ethnicity which can be entertaining, sometimes true and sometimes horrifying, but which at a core level are a reflection of a way a culture views itself or its aspirations.” The images are created to depict aspects of 1950’s suburban life that reflect these aspirations and dreams, and comment wryly on the foibles of human behavior.
The Life-Size and Other Lies series is captured with traditional film methods, but scanned to digital files to allow larger prints to be made. The fortuitous “brand” name of the pink child’s kitchen set that was the geneses of this series is integral to questions that have motivated my work for the past few years; questions like, “what, exactly, is life-size?”, and “how are size and power related?”. The claustrophobic quality of the space pictured is enhanced by a room that is scaled to the child’s kitchen set, not the models populating it. The models don’t “fit”, echoing the real life response of many women performing Sisyphean domestic tasks. They wear kitchen aprons that are emblematic of homemaker - the desired goal of “Rosie the Riveter” in the post-war move back to the home front. As a symbol of achieving the status of perfect housewife, the non-utilitarian “dressy” apron is worn with pride for entertaining in the home, emblematic of a nuclear family surrounded with new products that would ensure their happiness.
The scenes depicted outside the window of the confined space are from slides taken in the 1950’s that I find at garage and estate sales. Maybe the only escape from the stifling kitchen is into a world that no longer exists. To support this reading, I intend the described space to be perceived as hovering between “real” and “studio” settings.
The Scrolls series are inkjet prints on vintage wallpaper depicting a continuous parade of domestic activities. The imagery is appropriated from advertising in 1950’s women’s magazines which were chock full of ads for the newest refrigerators and stoves, washers and dryers; all newly improved and readily available in the post-war economic boom. After a long period of little appliance production during the Depression and none at all during World War II, kitchen appliances were produced and sold in record numbers in the 50’s - over four hundred million dollars in sales in 1955 alone. Yet even these sales figures can’t account for the ecstatic bliss of the models proffering the latest appliances. I chose the scroll format to emphasize that the washing, drying, ironing, and cleaning activities have no beginning and no end. They are, still, never done.