The Bathers: Photographs by Jennette Williams

Special Collections Library, 1st floor Perkins Library

Bathers by Jeanette WilliamsOn Display: 8 September 2009 – 13 December 2009

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Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library

Jennette Williams’s stunning platinum prints of women bathers in Budapest and Istanbul take us inside spaces intimate and public, austere and sensuous, filled with water, steam, tile, stone, ethereal sunlight, and earthly flesh. Over a period of eight years, Williams, who is based in New York City, traveled to Hungary and Turkey to photograph, without sentimentality or objectification, women daring enough to stand naked before her camera. Young and old, the women of The Bathers unapologetically inhabit and display their bodies with comfort and ease—floating, showering, conversing, lost in reverie.

Creating the images
in The Bathers, Williams drew on gestures and poses found in iconic paintings of nude women, including tableaux of bathers by Paul Cézanne and Auguste Renoir, renderings of Venus by Giorgione and Titian, Dominique Ingres’s Odalisque and Slave, and Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. By alluding to these images and others, Williams sought to reflect the religious and mythological associations of water with birth and rebirth, comfort and healing, purification and blessing. She also used copies of the paintings to communicate with her Hungarian- and Turkish-speaking subjects—homemakers, factory workers, saleswomen, secretaries, managers, teachers, and students. Working in steam-filled environments, Williams created quiet, dignified images that not only invoke canonical representations of female nudes but also early pictorial photography. At the same time, they raise contemporary questions about the gaze, the definition of documentary photography, and the representation and perception of beauty and femininity, particularly as they relate to the aging body. Above all else, her photos are sensuously evocative. They invite the viewer to feel the steam, hear the murmur of conversation, and to reflect on the allure of the female form.

A photography instructor at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, Williams is the fourth recipient of the biennial Center for Documentary Studies/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography. Mary Ellen Mark judged the prize, selecting the pictures of women bathers from three hundred entries, and wrote the foreword to Williams’s prize-winning book.

Mary Ellen Mark has received international acclaim for her many books and exhibitions as well as her editorial magazine work. Mark’s portrayals of Mother Teresa, Indian circuses, brothels in Bombay, and her award-winning essay on runaway children in Seattle have confirmed her place as one of America’s most significant and expressive documentary photographers. Her many honors include a Cornell Capa Award from the International Center of Photography,  an Infinity Award for Journalism, a Guggenheim fellowship, the World Press Award for Outstanding Body of Work Throughout the Years; and the Matrix Award for Outstanding Woman in the field of Film/Photography.

The Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library (RBMSCL) acquired a selection of the exhibit photographs through the generosity of the Honickman Foundation established by Lynne Honickman.  Harold Honickman sits on the board of the Honickman Foundation and is a member of the Duke University Library Advisory Board. The gift of Jennette Williams’s photographs supports RBMSCL’s commitment to acquiring photographic collections that have artistic merit and that reflect the visionary purposes and documentary impulses of their creators.

Reception/Artist Talk
12 November 2009 • 5:30-7:30
Rare Book Room • Perkins Library

Listen: QuickTimePlay Audio 61 min. 

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Reception/Artist’s Talk

12 November 2009

5:30pm, Rare Book Room, Perkins Library

Bathers Exhibit

Bathers Exhibit 


Photographs © Jennette Williams

Last modified December 2, 2009 9:00:43 AM EST