On Carrie Levy's "Domestic Stages" (2013)


Carrie Levy


"It seems that the appetite for pictures showing bodies in pain is as keen, almost, as the desire for ones that show bodies naked," wrote Susan Sontag in her small 2003 volume Regarding the Pain of Others.  Carrie Levy's photographic series Domestic Stages, created a year after Sontag's book, plays on the viewer's knowledge of just that: our desultory desire to witness pain as well as nakedness, and how we imagine ourselves understanding the symbology of both. Capturing friends and acquaintances in their home-settings, stripped of clothing and expressive eye contact or facial expression, Levy's large-scale photographs leave the viewer with little more than their intuitive capacity. And what do we intuit? We sense that these are everyday figures, marked by age and un-primped physicality; we know that their environments are modestly furnished nearly to the point of vacancy. And their assorted bodily contortions are something else we hurriedly read: these are not figures at ease, or captured at moments of particular confidence; they are twisted, hunched, lurching or heavily piled. The series' title gives us an additional cue: this is both a theatrical realm and a glimpse into time's progressive human ravages -- the stages we set for our intimately lived lives, as well as the stages we move through as we mature. That these spartan home-spaces are devoid of marks of living -- cups and saucers, keepsakes, decoration -- and focus more on paint-saturated walls, un-patterned window curtains and dull-worn couches -- make them more akin to backdrops, dramatic sets. That is, they engender authenticity and pantomime equally -- and beg that we consider the two as less opposed than we may assume. St. Sebastian nude, twisted, and riddled with arrows: this we know. Wrinkled flesh, unvarnished floors, the averted glance: we know this, too. To what extent, then, the script is already written -- and our moment of catharsis timed -- disrupts these illusions of consensus, and agitate the expectations of even the most experienced voyeur.

This capsule was published in Secret Behavior magazine, 2013.