I have been trying, for the past week, to teach myself how to articulate what I felt when I saw Tierney Gearon’s Explosures. But I am still at a loss. I can say, quite simply, that Gearon’s photographs twist archetypes in a way that is both poignant and unnerving. I can also say that the many images—over thirty—hung in Ace’s Beverly Hills galleries are too many, and that I would have preferred to see fewer so that I could look at each without being distracted by the rest. However, neither that open-ended praise nor that nit-picking criticism gets close to what really matters about Gearon’s work.
Since I am not able to make cohesive judgments, I am going to resort to fragmentation. Hopefully, by piecing together observations, I’ll get close to the richness of what Explosures offers.
That Gearon has used double exposures, an analogue technique in a digital age, seems especially weighty. It’s intentionally nostalgic, an evocation of memory.
Gearon orchestrates her images formally, beautifully. But they are not passive in the way that so many carefully composed fashion shoots or magazine spreads are. Why? Is it because she photographs family members and, like in many spontaneous snapshots, her subjects are often preoccupied?
Defining yourself through others is not the same as having no self. In Frame 18, two little girls in frilly summer dresses stand on a grassy lawn. They stare through an impressive bouquet of colorful balloons, facing their grown up doppelgangers, two pretty young women dressed in red heels and red, knee-length skirts. The women are unaware of the girls; they are probably too busy gazing at their own future selves.
In Gearon’s double exposures, children’s bodies become as big as grown-up bodies. I keep returning to Frame 50, the image of the pillow-headed girl. Three shirtless boys stand against what might be the exterior wall of a double-wide. They’re mischievous—something’s got them interested in being alive, right now, at this exact moment. The second exposure shows a chubby-legged girl holding a flower pillow over her face. She’s as tall as the boys and the scenario becomes perverse, even if it shouldn’t. Although they don’t actually know she’s there, the boys are looking at this little girl, directing all their youthful virility toward her. Her decision to hide her face behind something silly suddenly becomes ominous.
A naked mother holding her infant up to a blue sky connotes hopefulness, potential. But when mother and child are joined by two elderly figures that look like children themselves, the hopefulness is made idiosyncratic and inconclusive.
Voyeurism can be private, like when the elderly couple on the park bench points and stares but does not see the naked woman under the sidewalk. We, the viewers, see the woman, but we don’t see what the couple sees.
Two toddlers in nightgowns, equipped with Weeble People and plastic reptiles, come across an adolescent girl lying in the grass. One of the toddlers seems particularly excited about the encounter, but the reclining girl is lost in her own world. In Gearon’s photographys, people are always looking at each other across imperceptible divides. Distance and dissonance separate everyone from everyone else, yet the overwhelming feeling of the images is one of nearness and intimacy.
(Images from top to bottom: Frame 06, 2007, Archival Pigment Fiber Print, 42" (H) X 52 1/2" (W) | Edition of 5; Frame 24, 2007, Archival Pigment Fiber Print, 58" (H) X 72 1/4" (W) | Edition of 5; Frame 18, 2008, Archival Pigment Fiber Print, 42” (H) X 54 3/8” (W) | Edition of 5)