If there's truth to the old adage that self-confidence is the most attractive quality, then Stephanie Diani's women have got it going on. With youth and muscle tone the most valuable currency of attractiveness, the Los Angeles photographer asks a pointed question in her series Dames: Legends of Burlesque. Can women be old and sexy? For the answer, Diani turns her camera on senior-citizen showgirls. The aging burlesque dancers, shot at home or in the Las Vegas hotel rooms where they spent the nights of their working years, wear the accoutrements of titillation (lace, sheer fabrics, feathers) and glamour (gloves, fur, jewels) atop age spots and stretch marks. It's not often that you see voluminous, sagging breasts capped with sequined pasties or cupped in tasseled bras. (And you won't see anything else like these images in Beauty Under Scrutiny, the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center exhibition in which Dames appears.) There's April March, for instance, leaning toward the camera, her fleshy neck extended, her shoulders back. A hand on her hip pulls back her robe just slightly to reveal a hint of stocking. Years onstage made these women comfortable in their bodies in ways unknowable to most, and they still hold attention expertly in front of Diani's lens. Diani's camera loves them back, each wrinkle and roll.
Tom Jones' I Am an Indian First and an Artist Second, a photographic series of brilliantly colored abstract shapes against solid-black backgrounds, serves a dual purpose. It's a formal exercise — an incognito exploration of identity art — and also Jones' not-at-all-incognito two cents on the cultural-identity debate. Artists identifying as "post-Indian" deny or downplay their tribal heritage, or they use their ancestry as a starting point to address topics beyond their American Indian roots. Jones, a member of the Ho-Chunk tribe of Wisconsin, makes his stance explicit with the title of his exhibition, but his photographs operate much more subtly. The works suggest the complexities of being a native artist in a culture that many call "post-race." Jones' ambiguous shapes are actually photographs of plastic toys — the Indian pieces of cowboy-and-Indian figure sets (think army men) — shot from below. In most, all that's visible is the bottom of a plaything's base, a vantage that lets you read stunning minimalism into its design. The effect is especially vivid in "Grandmother Earth," in which a ring of green plastic encircles a sphere of warm orange, dappled with wispy white marks, at the top center of the composition. In "Shades of Yellow," however, the fuzzy forms of outstretched arms and tomahawks faintly register above the polygonal bases, which Jones keeps fully in focus. The shadowy forms of the weapon-wielding figurines hint at contention within the American Indian artist community.