I liked a lot of Strassheim’s black and white pictures of blood splatters under uv light and the sunny suburban exteriors they were paired with. I was excited by the set-up pictures from Israel that she showed up during Bushwick open studios two years ago. I’ve really never had anything against her work in general, there is just a part of me that saw her work as the death throes of staged photography, a tradition birthed by Cindy Sherman, best executed by Philip Lorca-diCorcia, made popular by Gregory Crewdson, made cool by the Yale Girls (Katy Grannan, Justine Kurland and Dana Hoey) and rightfully ended with the brilliance of An-My Lé. Leaving Strassheim as the back end of a broad, general photo-historical arch, the Joanie Loves Chachi of set-up photography.
But something struck me seeing her work from the last decade in this best of show. Yes, there is a little stiffness and some unbelievably and overdetermined narratives that plague the worst of Crewdson’s work, but in general her pictures were really good, and god damn after Lassery and Kelm, it was so refreshing to see pictures that meant something. More importantly, times have changed. I came into art in the 90’s, when set-up photography was all the rage, and making straightforward pictures pre-Alec Soth was something you very much had to explain. There was a tension and a politics in the photo world about staging photographs. Hell, it was a genre. But now that stuff seems like a distant memory, like fax machines and physical address books. Set-up photography is now just a style of making photographs no different from making straightforward pictures. The act of setting up a picture is so passé conceptually that it has lost all meaning, which in Strassheim’s work just leaves the image, and to her credit, at her best, the pictures start tapping into the general unhappy and unsettling suburban world that her narratives inhabit, like the young woman getting undressed, the fish tank or the father and son in the mirror. I am not sure yet how I feel about the installation reenacting an earlier picture of a similar looking closet with a TV on in it, but I do enjoy her attempt to reach into another medium, even if it left me just wanting to see the photograph. It is an odd still life, and trying to imagine where the closet was and why there would be a TV in it lets me escape into the believable narrative where the actual thing just feels like a diorama. In general, the show is really good, and I’m actually kind of bummed not to get to see more new work, but I guess for Strassheim’s first show at Andrea Meislin, it does leave me wanting more.