'with mine dyed blue' is a colorful celebration of body hair
Miami-raised photographer Josh Aronson is opening his first solo exhibition — in the industrial heartland of Russia.
Photography Joshua Aronson
I felt like I knew Josh Aronson before I met him: we both grew up in South Florida, where the light is thick, casting shadows shaped like palm trees and making palm trees look like hands. We’re familiar with that sun, the way it keeps the seasons blurry and the back of your neck wet, and his photographs seemed familiar to me, like home. “I never took a photography class, never pursued art-making,” Aronson says. The Philosophy major, once an avid director, started shooting consistently six years ago. “I felt at home at art. I was consuming so much, and I felt it was time to contribute. Music videos had been my venue, but I was already taking photos of my friends, skateboarders, musicians, my whole community in Miami. Film, music videos — they were a longer process. I wanted to make work that reflected the pace of the life I was living.”
On October 27, his first solo show, With Mine Dyed Blue, opens at the Nizhny Tagil Museum of Fine Arts (in collaboration with Space Place Gallery) in Nizhny Tagil, Russia, a small, industrial city in the Ural Mountains, far from home. The special curator at the museum, Evgeny Komuhin, directed me to Alexander Kozlov’s coverage of the city’s growing art scene, the young communities forming between its closed-down factories. He tells me he loves projects like Aronson’s “because they are on the border of acceptable and ineligible in my country.”
In this show, there are no visible faces: only nine images of bodies with splayed pubic hair, an appendage usually tucked away or these days shaved to nothing. Even on Instagram, a palimpsest of allegedly unmediated images of bodies, pubic hair is censored for appearing to be exactly what it is: fuzzy and mostly innocuous. “The actual chase involved finding people who still had body hair,” Aronson tells me. "With Mine Dyed Blue was a way of critiquing what I was seeing in photographs of the body. It’s not that I dislike like ubiquitous images of the body displayed sexually, but I felt there weren’t enough showing it, celebrating it, in a non-sexual way.”
The initial idea was — not a pun — a burning bush. One photograph starts at a belly button, ends at the thigh; hands tug at a waistband to make room for a flame. A snaky blue hip vein, an afterthought, looks like a river flowing away from the fire. “I felt that image got at what I wanted to say about nudity, the body, and identity. Everyone is exploring what it means to really be themselves, to fully hone in on your identity. There’s an increased circulation of information, and a subtly growing awareness of ourselves. I feel the spectrum of identity is expanding.” Aronson recalls going to Berlin with friends, “having the dye box in my bag, a bottle of bleach, holding my camera, and being like, ‘Who’s ready?!’ My friends were like: ‘You’re crazy.’” Not everyone, he tells me, “is comfortable with it. I think these photographs take what’s a very private space and makes it very public.”
That isn’t so unusual — “I guess it’s indicative of the world we live in today,” he adds — but the vehicle is. Have you skimmed that place where the abdomen meets the hips and dips, like a valley, into your pelvis? It’s always soft. With Mine Dyed Blue is a rainbow of pubes: bursting from button-flies and cummerbunds, russet brumes on white skin, ash-white clouds on brown, growing from bodies taut or creased. Some hair is pretend — a bundle of fake fur tucked into transparent underwear and legs bent to stretch them both. One body, femme and curved like a cat, is a wash of peacock-green, blurred to appear double: two stomachs, four breasts, two heart lines on a palm. Another body appears to rest, vertically, on navy carpeting. I rotated the picture; maybe it’s a navy wall? Aronson is a Pisces, and Piscean in his approach: sentimental and fascinated by illusion. “I’m interested in allowing those transparencies to surface, to make you question what’s real. Is that fire real?”
Their strangeness, their aberrant, otherworldly humor: that was Aronson’s guideline in narrowing down images for his show. “Some others I shot might’ve been better framed,” he explains, “but they didn’t feel right as far as making this narrative. These things can feel organic, like the imperfections that happen when you shoot film, when you dye your hair at home. Look at these, maybe respond to them.” Soon he was speaking, of course, not simply about the photos. “Maybe the imperfections that drive you crazy are actually all good.”
"With Mine Dyed Blue" opens tomorrow, October 27, at Space Place Gallery in Nizhniy Tagil.