New York based photographer Maxwell Snow presents his series entitled “The Lady of Shalott”. This project was showcased at Colette, Paris, inspired by Alfred Tennyson’s poem.
“Max Snow’s newest work takes its title from Tennyson’s poem: a lyric ballad adapting Arthurian Legend. Cursed to remain alone in her island fortress, The Lady of Shalott is unable to participate in the world except to view its distorted reflection in her mirror and weave those images on her loom. Both the poem and the show serve to raise questions about society and the artist’s role, responding to the conflicting commands to create art inspired by the world and also to live in it. The longstanding connection between weaving and fate implies that the ultimate destiny of the lady, as both artist and individual in society, is to see the world only through her own filters. There is also the embedded allusion to Plato’s allegory of the Cave where the world is a shadow play of ideal forms outside and beyond human perception.
A theme running throughout every piece is an embodied reference to classical forms, particularly with regards to sculpture. The four women draped with cloth shrouds appear as if transformed into marble statuary- reminiscent of rococo funerary ornaments not unlike those found in the Hapsburg Imperial Crypt. Their features are reduced to the outline of their curves and contours through the fabric.
The original series of nudes and birds calls to mind the Greco-Roman legend of Leda and the Swan, whereby Zeus took the form of a bird to seduce a mortal woman. The form, particularly with the reclined pose, suggests that the series may have as much in common with the Borghese Hermaphroditus at the Louvre. Again, in each image, some aspect of the model is obscured- her face, her breasts- embodying the theme of filtration (doubling as a photographic pun) and the layers of distortion intrinsic to interrelation. There is both an element of the classic striptease and a body play of identity politics as the traditional markers of both individuality and gender are taken over and hidden from view.
Those familiar with Snow’s work will note the continuation of his earlier installation “100 Headless Women”, depicting female nudes whose faces are obscured by veils of paint. While in the first show, 29 of the images were obscured by black and only one was covered over by white, here the dynamic has shifted. By covering over the eyes and face, the viewer is denied a sense of intimacy with the photographic subject, and forced to deal strictly with the composition and the representation of bodily form. The experience is introspective, cutting through the unspoken assumptions of how we see and are seen, as well as the long held notion of Cartesian dualism- that internal identity is separate from the physical body. Without the humanizing elements of the eyes, with which one discerns emotion and forges connection, the women are made both alien and formally blank. They serve as canvases for the viewer to overlay internal expectations and fantasies. These headless women seem to say that meaning is in the eyes of the beholder, and that personal identity is constructed and interpellated from the outside in.
The final images, a pair of burning ships, drive this point home by serving as visual allusions both to the end of the poem, and Snow’s earlier work with its often foreboding subject matter. Their dark composition and the light issued from the rising flames, remind one of images from Snow’s 2008, “It’s Fun To Do Bad Things”. In the poem, when the Lady sails from her island, the curse kills her, and the citizens of Camelot discover her corpse floating in the water.”
-Words by Andrew Lenoir