Carol Henry is a photographer, co-owner of Carmel Visual Arts gallery, and founder of the women’s photography group FotoSaga. She’s put together meaningful, artistic, ambitious exhibitions in the past.
She recently brought in photography professor Kathryn Mayo and her series We Are Selma, in which Mayo used the mid-1800s process of plate collodion to do portraits of women and girls from her hometown of Selma, Alabama. The inclusive and generous United Folk, a black-and-white homage to the 1955 Museum of Modern Art exhibition Family of Man, is currently showing at the Monterey County Weekly’s Press Club in Seaside.
Henry’s newest show at her gallery (which she co-owns with Rich Brimer) opened July 22 and runs through Aug. 22. It’s called Friedan vs Freud, 55 Years of the Feminine Mystique. It’s populated by photos from the FotoSaga group, and revisits the era in which feminist, writer and activist Betty Friedan illuminated the sublimated desires and ambitions of women in the 1950s and ’60s, challenging Freud’s “Victorian” assertions about the inner lives of women.
It was a pivotal moment for Baby Boomers like Henry (and their mothers), a moment that she connects to the #MeToo movement, the Women’s March, a new wave of feminism.
“We owe a lot of my generation’s freedom to Betty Friedan,” Henry says. “There are many advances that were gained in the ’60s that we’re having a little bit of a backward motion on right now. I think this reminds people of the work that was done then.”
This show’s photographers are about Henry’s age, and new to photography. Rebecca Law has a photo of a naked man reclined on a sofa draped with tapestries; as an homage, Kim Campbell took a photo of a photograph of her grandmother next to a pink pussy hat; Martha Tonkin, the new media teacher at Monterey High School, superimposed her face over that of her mother’s.
Henry herself has a few instructive photos in the show. One is the staged “Ready for Battle,” a topless woman adorned with neon war paint, wearing a grass skirt, holding a spear topped with a pineapple. Henry says it’s meant to represent power, defiance, feeding of the body and soul. But it has strong resemblance to 1950s exotica, Martin Denny and tiki lounges.
A more delineated photo for the Friedan/Freud theme is one she calls “Gardening on the Edge.” It shows a garden in the foreground, hemmed in by a white picket fence that ends abruptly at a cliff, and a vast ocean-sky-mountain vista beyond that.
“[It’s a] 1950s-based time-capsule of the concept of what women should be satisfied doing,” Henry says. “Picket fences were a huge metaphor.”
Illustrating ideas in an artistic medium, it seems, can be tricky. A lot can happen between the artists’ intention, their command of the medium, the interpretation and execution, and the viewers’ understanding of all that. When trying to comment on our modern lives, artists rely on that chain of events.
“The good thing about art is that everybody comes to an exhibition with their own history and feelings,” Henry says.