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Julia Baum at NY Studio Gallery

Julia Baum, "Io", detail of digital c-print, 2008.
Julia Baum, Io, detail of digital c-print, 2008

A Rare Breed - A Portrait Series on Redheads
Julia Baum
NY Studio Gallery - 154 Stanton, New York NY
4 September - 27 September

Red hair was the theme of a recent portraiture show of photographer Julia Baum at the New York Studio Gallery on the Lower East Side.

Blank white backgrounds stoke the fire on these scalps. The garments the subjects wear are likewise muted and resist screaming with busy patterns. The textures and colors of the vermillion strands immediately grab the viewer's attention. Baum's fauvist eye for bold color is tempered by the shutter's literalism but never entirely suppressed.

Red hair fans out across a wide spectrum of shades. But there are scant occasions to appreciate this variety as two carrot tops rarely stand side by side. Glowing bonfires of hair contrast starkly against duller heaps of terracotta. Before connoisseurship became a dirty synonym for narrow minded elitism and neo-phobia, it was once associated with relishing such subtle distinctions between colors, lines and shapes. By bringing so much red hair together, Baum taps into this presently undervalued joy of viewing.

Julia Baum, "Patrick", digital c-print, 2008.
Julia Baum, Patrick, digital c-print, 2008

Such a physical premise might raise "red" flags of reducing individuals to the typologies of their appearance. But by focusing on red hair so explicitly, the second take on these portraits intentionally avoids the hair and concentrates on the face. And Baum left a rich reservoir for viewers that dig deeper beyond the show's unifying element.

Baum captures her subjects with an impressive level of honesty and ease. Striking a pose or forcing a face enjoys widespread popularity in advertisement as well as vernacular snapshots. It's difficult to override these defaults and grab a picture as though the camera isn't present. Although the subject will always be cognizant of their representation on some subconscious level, some photographers like Baum do a far better job at getting their subjects to frankly just relax. By making her viewers feel safely rather than awkwardly self-conscious, Baum's mines gems of portraiture.

Baum's espouses her own theories about personality traits that all red heads share in common. As a carrot top herself, she can claims some authority. She remarked that "as redheads, we are used to being one in a crowd and regularly noted for our appearance. Experiencing life in this way from infancy through adulthood influences who we are. As a natural redhead, I know our hair color affects more than just our appearance. As only 1% of the entire human population, our distinctive coloring is a relevant topic from day one."

Posing for a portrait demands a certain level of vanity. Whether this effect is exacerbated by a lifetime of sprouting red hair or subtle coaching from a motivated photographer is too hard to tell. Either way, the gazes in these photographic subjects alternates between penetrating and haunting, the colors honed and striking, the lines crisp. Leave it to a red head to produce portraiture that ranks 1 in a 100.