Tanyth Berkeley first came to the attention of the art world with her 2002 - 2004 series "Orchidaceae" – a series of 16 color portraits of different young women she had met on the subway and persuaded to pose for her in city parks. Photographed in relative close-up, eyes averting the camera, Berkeley's subjects, all of whom could be described as unusual or atypical looking, invited the viewer to create their own narrative or explanation while questioning traditional notions of beauty.
Berkeley's unique style combined both painterly effect and photographic clarity in a novel and distinctive way. Influenced by artists as diverse as Toulouse-Lautrec, Egon Schiele, and Diane Arbus - Berkeley's work signaled the arrival of an original and wholly contemporary new vision, and was recognized as such when the Museum of Modern Art selected Berkeley for their "New Photography" show in 2007.While Berkeley turned her eye to various other subjects - transgendered women, street performers, people passing through Times Square - she continued to regularly photograph one of her original "orchids", Grace Longoria, an albino woman of Mexican descent who Berkeley once described as "a combination of Marilyn Monroe and the moon". Their initial chance encounter set the stage for an ongoing relationship which has now lasted seven years and is the subject of this show - the first exhibition devoted exclusively to Berkeley's pictures of Grace.
The artist/muse relationship is often a potent story, but in the case of Berkeley's work with Grace the relationship is more academic - the model as a figure with whom the artist can explore his or her style and ideas without emotional entanglement. As an albino Grace brings both an inherent luminosity of skin as well as a paradoxical sensitivity to light that often makes it hard for her to open her eyes to the sun. This brings an inherent tension to many of the images as Grace is both attracted to and forced to keep a distance from photographic contact. At the same time her appearance makes her both a "star" and an outsider - qualities that Berkeley's is much drawn to.
In the course of these pictures, we see Grace evolve from a tentative 21 year old to a strong and mesmerizing presence. Berkeley's photographs range from the intimate to the theatrical and are printed from 20 x 24" to life size. Since Berkeley's first "discovered" her, Grace has been sought out by a number of other photographers - an object of wonder or curiosity. However, in Berkeley's work she is a much more integral part of the whole - the subject rather than the object - a symbol of the infinite and unique possibilities of the natural world.
Tanyth Berkeley was born in Hollywood, California, and currently lives and works in New York. She received her MFA in photography from Columbia University in 2004 and holds a BA from CCNY in photography and creative writing. Her work was featured in "New Photography" at the Museum of Modern Art, New York last year and is currently featured in SITE Santa Fe.
Graciella Longoria was born in Houston, Texas. She works for Univision - a bilingual cable company - and models in her spare time.