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“She disarms me with her sure sense of her own attractiveness and, with it, her direct, even provocative approach to the camera. Impossibly, she is both artless and sophisticated; a child and yet a woman.” – “At Twelve” by Sally Mann
When her step-daughter Zoe turned thirteen, Nancy Grace Horton found a muse in her intricate metamorphosis, enchanted by the “glimpses of who she was becoming and whom she was leaving behind.” Zoe was cooperative, if not always interested, and Horton’s sensitivity and proximity gleaned a lovely spectrum of Zoe’s expressive gestures, at once unique and recognizable. Photographs from Horton’s series and book “Being Thirteen” will be on exhibit at the New England School of Photography in Boston’s Kenmore Square through May 29, 2015.
Comparisons between Horton’s 2008 “Being Thirteen” and Sally Mann’s 1998 “At Twelve” are unavoidable. Although both photographers tackled the same stage of girlhood, where they most closely align is in their deliberate approach to subjects they know. Horton was prompted by and stayed with her step-daughter Zoe, while Mann’s work evolved from focusing on her twelve year-old neighbors to photographing her own, younger children in “Immediate Family”. Both artists utilized larger equipment – Horton a medium format camera with color film and Mann a view camera with B&W film – that slowed their pace and facilitated a level of engagement that enabled penetrating glimpses into complex subjects.
The intimacy and respect Horton shares with Zoe can be keenly sensed in her unaffected portraits. Occupying both the physical and emotional center of Horton’s balanced square frames, Zoe is given space to lay full claim to our attention, while revealing symbolic interactions with her surroundings. Under her grandparents’ attentive gaze, Zoe dutifully reads an essay aloud, her fledgling proclamation of self readily apparent. But in the embrace of her father at a bus stop, we discern Zoe’s ambivalence, her spontaneously contented expression accompanied by a posture that declares her self-conscious urge to break free. The nearby road silently suggests her imminent departure.
In Horton’s solo portraits, we experience a range of Zoe’s emotions, from playful to pensive. The subdued palette in “Being Thirteen” functions as both a veil and springboard for Zoe, as she blends into or pops out of her surroundings. Horton’s sophisticated arbitration of color is a subtle but intentional indicator of her subject’s fluctuations in mood and self-assurance.
Horton’s patient and thoughtful regard for her subject, her refusal to sensationalize or romanticize this famously rocky transformation into adulthood is quietly affecting. Her intimate portraits form a visually and emotionally holistic body of work, imbued with empathy and grace.
For information about this exhibit, go to: https://www.nesop.com/garner_center.asp
To learn more about Nancy Grace Horton go to: http://www.hortonphoto.com/index.html
To purchase the book “Being Thirteen”, go to: http://www.blurb.com/b/4690887-being-13
Feature Image: “Motel, 2008” by Nancy Grace Horton (courtesy of the artist)