“‘Girl Pictures’: The Land of Heroines” by Riley Weaver

I’ve recently been pondering the extent of my anger, or better, lack thereof. Women are taught that anger is the only emotion we should not feel if we are to be good mothers, good wives, good mild homemakers while, often, anger is seen as a purely male emotion. A woman should be strong enough to be sexy but not so strong that she overpowers the men in her life. Girls should simultaneously ooze sexuality but keep it in check lest a boy takes notice and is distracted by a shoulder. Justine Kurland’s photography combats the modern female ideal and collects utopian fragments from a matriarchal Garden of Eden. Her photographs were exhibited by Mitchell-Innes and Nash in early 2018 but now can be found within her many books or by simply searching her name. Kurland’s images only reawaken my childhood fascination with running away to the woods behind my house and finding silence in the snow. Through these photos, I am realizing the autonomy in adventure and a cure for involuntary numbness.

Justine Kurland’s photo series “Girl Pictures” reveals a world of ‘runaway girls’ in all the places they are not supposed to be. In a culture that frequents the image of a teenage boy with a cigarette between his lips and an alluring dark side, to see a young woman fixed into the same romantic frame is refreshing. In “Kung Fu Fighters,” two girls play fight in an unkept field, a bridge and building to their backs, while the third girl sits atop a graffitied boulder and blows a bubble with her chewing gum. Kurland’s photos are overwhelmingly androgynous in their unapologetic femininity; her girls are casually dressed (or undressed) in ’90s jeans and tank tops accompanied by militant personas. These heroines reconstruct the famed “Lord of the Flies” narrative through their coven of violence. In “Boy Torture: Double Headed Monster,” a girl straddles an inanimate teenage boy, her spit looming over his face while two girls hover in the background: one with hair hanging forwards, and a younger girl perched in a nearby tree. A commentary on the seemingly innate ferocity of young men, Kurland designs these clandestine moments to the paradoxical and raw backdrops of American desolation. The intimacy with nature portrayed in “Armadillo Burial” as a girl holds the tail of an armadillo while her accomplices dig and look on with quiet courtesy of a proper burial forges a peculiarly solemn moment that calls to the undiscovered wild within us. Within seemingly candid shots, these young women are allowed to exist within the covert intensity of childhood that endures beyond society’s implicit chains.