It would be quite easy to dismiss the pictures in "Boulevard" on the grounds that Grannan is a latter-day Diane Arbus, inherently exploiting her "singular" subjects in the act of photographing them. Many appear to be regular denizens of the street — the homeless, addicts, hustlers — or are folks whose self-presentation defies established norms: an aging Marilyn Monroe impersonator, a trans woman with a 100-yard stare, an extremely hirsute biker-type.
Such a charge is unfair, and I suspect, likely the work of our own unease at looking at people who we would normally turn away from, or perhaps stare at furtively, if encountered on the street. Grannan, though, seems to want to give them their moment without overextending the encounter. Hence, a photograph. She doesn't pose her subjects and none look directly at the camera. It's as if, as with the fur-wrapped crone, she stopped them midstride, got her shot, and they went on their way. She respects their anonymity as well (each photo is titled after the city, Los Angeles or San Francisco, where it was taken). The discomfort in looking at Grannan's work — she extends her gaze in The Believers, a related solo film installation at 1453 Valencia — partly comes from how technically accomplished and flawless it is: she shoots midday to capture her subject's every wrinkle, blemish, and faded tattoo.
It feels off and disingenuous to call Grannan's work "beautiful," but it's hard not to look and keep looking at the people in her neighborhood, some of whom are our neighbors as well.
EVA HESSE: STUDIOWORK
Through April 10, $5
Berkeley Art Museum
2626 Bancroft Way, Berk.
KATY GRANNAN: BOULEVARD
Through Feb. 19, free
49 Geary, SF
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