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Kathy's Beauty Nook

by Ami Kealoha in Culture on 16 February 2006

kathysbeautynook.jpg

With a foot in both the fashion and fine art words, New York-based photographer John Arsenault, 34, is in some ways a typical lensman, working commercially while pursuing personal projects at the same time. But, unlike photographers before him, Arsenault's latest series, "Kathy's Beauty Nook," debuting at ClampArt in New York City on 23 February 2006, uniquely mixes voyeurism, documentary impulses, and an unprecedented intimacy that he shares with his subjects.

Shot over a two-year period, Arsenault returned to his hometown in Haverhill, Massachusetts to capture scenes from his aunt's salon where he spent much of his formative childhood years. "I consider my personal work a photo diary," Arsenault explains, "the beauty parlor was such a big aspect of my life and these women are a large part of my life."

Building on a body of self-portraits that are sometimes gently self-deprecating or often intensely revealing, Arsenault cites Nan Goldin and Wolfgang Tillmans among influences that dramatically altered the direction of his work when he moved to New York in 1997. Without sacrificing that dynamic energy or behind-the-scenes immediacy, there's clearly a more eye-level gaze of small-town New England at play in his portraits of the women. The results are an affectionate take on women in their late middle ages as they get their hair done and swap stories—set within the frilly decor and floral wallpaper of the salon—hinting at a faded, forgotten era that only exists in the rural U.S.

WIth an Eggleston-like use of color and a focus on a localized subculture—he calls Diane Arbus a "classic influence" and David Yellen comes to mind—Arsenault's work points to a new American vernacular, a fair-minded vision blurring the line between the mundane and the beautiful.

Kathy's Beauty Nook
Opening reception: Thursday, 23 February, 2006, 6-8pm
ClampArt
531 West 25th Street
New York, NY 10001
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