I first encountered Ruth Steinberg’s photography when she gave an artist talk about her series, What the Body Remembers, a powerful body of work that (re)introduced nudes of women aged 55 years or older into our visual culture, at Studio Sixty Six in April 2015. Her work captivated me with its message that the aging female body is beautiful, strong, and fierce — something that our society has not fully appreciated or embraced as a result of its emphasis on the “ideal” nature of the younger body.
“I was struck by the dance-like quality of the poses. Two dance forms were suggested by the images: the pas de deux, a lyrical and romantic duet between partners, and the tango, the more passionate, almost violent dance of lovers.”
Steinberg’s work is thoughtful and beautifully captured – characteristics that continue in her work on view in her first solo exhibition, Pas de Deux/Tango (February 10 to March 15, 2017) at the Atrium Art Gallery (101 Centrepointe Dr) which had its vernissage on February 14.
The 13 photographs on display in the exhibition reflect a choreography – a dance – of movement and emotion in the relationship between the two female models. Dressed simply in leotards with their bodies powdered and hair wrapped away, the models were free to interact with each other, with only minimal directions from the photographer. Their poses, set against a dark background are full of grace and raw passion, suggesting a tension somewhere between flirtation and something more carnal.
As Steinberg indicates in her artist statement, “I was struck by the dance-like quality of the poses. Two dance forms were suggested by the images: the pas de deux, a lyrical and romantic duet between partners, and the tango, the more passionate, almost violent dance of lovers.”
As one progresses through the exhibition, one recognizes an order to the images and the sense of a budding relationship between the models: there is the initial flirtation, followed by images where they begin to test their relationship’s boundaries – poses becoming fluid or full of tension – exploring the softness, trust, and conflict inherent in relationships, and culminating in a sensual release in the final images. Thus, the essence of most romantic partnerships is masterfully captured by Steinberg’s camera: the dance between the give and take, the good times and the bad, and the tender and the erotic.
The exhibition’s strength comes from its choreographic and narrative form, but also from the visual impact and composition of each individual photograph. Steinberg emphasizes the human form, but also the intensely powerful and captivating gazes of her models in several of the images. Whether they are looking directly at the viewer or not, there is provocative ownership of each woman’s role in their relationship to each other in their gaze and body language, each matches their own strength against the strength of the other, reflecting a true partnership.
Much like her previous series, What the Body Remembers, Pas de Deux/Tango strikes me as an exploration and celebration of women in any kind of relationship: their femininity, their tenderness, their power, and their sexuality.
Pas de Deux/Tango is on view at the Atrium Art Gallery until March 15, 2017. To see more of Ruth Steinberg’s work, see her website: www.ruthsteinbergphotographs.com.