PDN Photo of the Day

An Anxious Swan Song for Childhood’s Grace

Isabel Magowan trained as a pre-professional ballerina until she was 17, an experience that seeps into her series “Cygnets,” where her subjects wrestle with expectations of perfection. Set in domestic spaces, the images depict kids and teenagers in moments of self-awareness or oblivion as they experiment uneasily with the signs of adulthood: wealth, sophistication, and tentative sexuality or innocence. A carefully staged psychological charge runs through many of the scenes—a mother vicariously primps her adolescent daughter as they share a mirror and are watched closely by a younger girl; an adolescent in thick mascara looks apprehensive about the shirtless boy who wraps his arms around her; a nearly naked, tearstained girl sits on her bed among piles of stuffed animals, her body at odds with her childhood room. These are dramatic occasions, but other images show less sensational if no less pivotal moments—a young girl, eyes closed, lolls on a green rug, at peace in her own world; a teen, framed by a car window, applies make-up. Made while she was a graduate student at Yale, the images were shown last summer at Danziger Gallery in New York as part of a group show, “Lovely Dark: Yale MFA Photo 2015.”

“Like cygnets that will grow into creatures of grace, [these] young subjects are being groomed for lives of privilege, where what matters is the image that they project to the world. The elegance of the swan once grown, however, masks its actual temperament, one of violence and aggression,” writes Magowan in a statement. Her images look “for the moments in which a growing self-awareness is at odds with a youthful naiveté. What results are images that possess a deceptive superficial beauty that is undercut by a subtle anxiety, and the looming unidentified sense that any moment something could go wrong.”

Related Stories:

Stranger Than Fiction: The 2010 Yale University MFA Thesis Show

Clean Linens and Good Manners in a Family History of Virtue

Heroes & Mentors: Tina Barney and Gillian Laub

Posted in:

Fine Art


, , , ,


Comments off


Comments are closed.

Top of Page