DPP Home Profiles Lynn Goldsmith: In The Looking Glass

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Lynn Goldsmith: In The Looking Glass

Lynn Goldsmith challenges identity and perception with a body of self-portraits that she has been creating, assembling and crafting for more than 10 years

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Shopping plays a pivotal role in the philosophy of the work, as it did in its inspiration.

“I was in a department store,” Goldsmith explains, “and I saw that people were buying things, women particularly, where I wanted to scream out, ‘No, no, no! Don’t put that on! That looks horrible!’ I figured I have to have some sense of who I am if I think I know what they should or shouldn’t be putting on. So I started thinking about what brought these women into the store. I stood outside and I watched people look at the windows, and I realized how many mannequins were headless, and I started thinking about how people go by, look at the windows, and they get this image of what they think will improve their lives and will make them more attractive both to themselves and to the world at large.

“We all go through times,” she says, “where we wonder if the work that we’re doing or the friends that we have or our family relationships—is any of this meaningful? I don’t care what economic strata you come from, I don’t care what level of education you’ve had, I really believe that all human beings question the meaning of life. And shopping seems to be an activity that takes people out of letting that be a heavy question. And that’s why I think in some way shopping became an addiction for a lot of people. ‘Oh, gee, I’m a housewife, now my kids are grown up, I’m going shopping.’ When we bring something home, we’ll feel better about who we are. Retail therapy. And so the work is really involved with all of those things and my dealing with all of those issues and attempting not necessarily to find an answer, but to be more conscious.”

Goldsmith began exploring department stores specifically to watch shoppers look at window displays. That led to making pictures on 35mm film (this was in the pre-digital era of 2000). After scanning a few images, she started removing elements from the scenes to create her own fictional narratives. Then she’d photograph other things to add to the scenes. Fairly quickly, she developed greater ambitions for the work.

“I realized very early on, thank goodness, that I really wanted my images to be printed almost as big as the window,” Goldsmith says. “I think that you need to choose tools that reflect what it is you’re attempting to do. I knew I wanted to go large format, and because I knew I was questioning what’s real and what’s imagined—when you work digitally, completely digitally, nothing really exists until you make a print—so I decided that I really needed to have a Leaf back and a larger format, a Mamiya.”

Discarding all of her 35mm film work because it was unsuitable for the large scale she had in mind and armed with her medium-format digital-capture system, Goldsmith headed out late at night, alone initially, and she worked until the wee hours of the morning photographing outside New York department stores. She eventually included windows at the American Museum of Natural History as well, photographed with her unobtrusive, high-resolution Nikon DSLR cameras as a tourist would, undisturbed in the public space.

“Because there are windows [at the museum],” Goldsmith says, “I started getting into the whole thing of people looking at these windows and getting back a reflection of themselves, thus The Looking Glass. In my fictional narratives, in this question of who am I, who are we, it was leading me to this question of what makes us human. And so there were elements in my narrative that I felt were fitting to come from the Museum of Natural History.”


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