Kelli Connell’s decade-long photo project, Double Life, features a female model who is doubled and interacts with herself. She encounters herself at a bar, in rural landscapes, and in bed, where she shares a drink with herself, a smoke, and a kiss. The history of art is crowded with complex double portraits, although the depiction of an individual, multiplied, is most often the purview of self-portraiture, from Frida Kahlo to Jeff Wall. But Connell uses a model named Kiba Jacobson, who, like the artist, is a blonde, white woman, roughly the same age as the artist. Connell dresses her doubled model in different clothes as a way to naturalize the digital manipulation and make the narrative of self-love more nuanced.
Fourteen of Connell’s photographs are on view at Catherine Edelman Gallery through October 29, a show that coincides with the release of a retrospective book by Decode. Connell’s corpus does not open a door onto Kiba Jacobson’s life, but turns her into an actress in a fiction of subtly constructed emotions. The woman’s face is often passive, and her gaze is distant. We see her mostly in moments of placid bliss, and when there is conflict, it is only inferred.
Although Connell’s masterfully manipulated imagery recalls the work of Ben Gest and Philip-Lorca diCorcia, the emotional scenery of Double Life is perhaps indebted to Lisa Cholodenko’s beautifully shot 1998 film High Art, which dramatizes the love affair between a photographer and her admirer, a young woman. Double Life, though, seems to focus on the sexy, happy moments from that film. In High Art, Syd (Radha Mitchell) is left to cope with her own newfound sexual identity after her lover dies. Double Life might be read as a sort of sequel to Cholodenko’s film, in which the tragic heroine finally learns that if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.