Sometimes it’s better to know the art than the artist. Such is the case with “Pure,” a series of portraits by the German photographer Manuel Pandalis.
The images, being shown for the first time in North America at D.C.’s Leica Store, are head-and-shoulders portraits of models, free of makeup. This is designed to make these demigods of beauty more “normal.” For the most part, the approach works.
Pandalis’ high-detail, digital, black-and-white images expose every follicle of beard stubble and a panoply of freckles. Sometimes, the faces are so reflective with sweat and body oils that the images seem solarized. Strikingly, the glare washes out many of the subjects’ irises so they are as pale as those of a marble sculpture.
But then there’s the video interview with Pandalis that was made especially for this exhibit. The artist comes across as so pretentious, jaded, and self-absorbed that the quick-cut, arty, black-and-white video seems like an SNL digital short parody starring a latter-day Dieter. (“I like movement. Skin. Things that move up and down,” he says at one point, amid footage of himself doing a handstand and preparing a wood-burning stove.)
Fortunately, Pandalis’ best work overshadows this distraction, particularly his images of models of African descent. Some suggest the stripped down lines and textures of old Grace Jones portraits; others are notable for their supple reflections of light off noses and lips. The series may not be as conceptually taut as Marc Babej’s plastic-surgery riffs, which were shown recently at Adamson Gallery, but Pandalis’ cosmetic-free vibe is nonetheless admirable.
On view to April 30 at the Leica Store, 977 F St. NW.