Sunday, April 27, 2008

pretend that you're actually alive

Leigh Ledare, a freshly minted Columbia MFA, has just produced a complicated and disturbingly voyeuristic book, Pretend You're Actually Alive. Published by PPP Editions, the book coincides with his solo show at Andrew Roth, who runs the press. The work is a dark collaborative exploration of Leigh's mother, their relationship, and the damage of fame and victimization. As the press release states,

[PYAC] can be viewed as an archive of a mother and son’s shared, private moments amidst the desperate attempts to renew her identity as a dancer – this ­time working as a stripper in a club beside her parents’ apartment. Pretend You’re Actually Alive is also a mapping of Ledare’s mother’s efforts to commodify herself –initially through her precocious childhood talent, later through her overt sexuality, and eventually through the portrayal of herself as an archetypal victim – in efforts to find companionship, attention, financial security, and a benefactor before her youthful, marketable currencies expire.

Combining archival momentos and notes with frank and graphic photographs, the work continues in the intensely personal documentary tradition of Larry Clark (Ledare was the still-photo from Clark's film Ken Park), Nan Goldin, Richard Billingham and even Jim Goldberg. Coming home one holiday, Leigh visit his mom, who lived next door to his grandparents, and she answered the door naked -- dramatically announcing she was now a stripper. His mom, once a famous ballerina, was stripping at a local club and working through a series of abusive relationships in a desperate attempt to maintain and affirm her beauty and talent, and garner the attention and affection of wealthy patrons and boyfriends, who offered her the possibility of financial security.

     © Leigh Ledare, All Rights Reserved.

 I'm typically wary of personal photojournalistic work - because more often than not the peculiarities of the person's life (or their approach) rarely merit sustained attention. More recently, the trend for self-involved hipsters to document themselves getting drunk or cavorting about naked seems to offers little beyond the initial voyeuristic excitement. At the same time, the kind of self-destructive lifestyle and drama that fuels much similar work can also be a trap and misleading foundation that props up otherwise thin work. Ledare's work seems to avoid this danger and explores deeper issues of intimacy, the collapse and evolution of a mother and son relationship, co-dependency, performance and authorship. In many ways, the work is a performative investigation and collaboration btw Ledare and his mother about her and their relationship.
     © Leigh Ledare, All Rights Reserved.

The book is quite beautiful and comes softbound in a slip-case. The book is divided into chapters with photographs mixed in with various typed and hand-written notes, archival photos, and diary entries that recount what are fictional and truthful events in Leigh and his mother's life. The show is up at Andrew Roth until mid-June and the book can be purchased there or here.