Amy Doty’s photography exposes hidden slices of life in “Incapable,” top, “Heroin,” middle and “Dinnertime,” bottom.
Amy Doty often makes this little noise during conversation. Hearing about an old friend and a flat tire both elicit it—something like a drawn-out “Oh” with a steadily rising pitch that drops precipitously before ending on an upward tick. It’s a noise babies and puppies evoke, a kindly humanistic vocalization that could hardly contrast more, at least superficially, with her artwork.
Doty, who grew up in Missoula, opens a show at Ceretana Gallery on Friday, June 1, incorporating photographs from her undergraduate work at Washington’s Northwest College of Art, as well as two series of recent Missoula photographs. The common theme running through them, says Doty, is showing what’s hidden. But as one might expect of things people have a motive to hide, the things portrayed bear little resemblance to puppies or babies. Instead, Doty’s art focuses on grotesquerie: S&M practitioners, self-abuse and drug addiction all make appearances.
“It’s always scary to have shows in Missoula because my stuff is not like Montana art at all,” says Doty, who graduated in 2006 and returned to Missoula last year. “I had a show before and I had some people not get it at all and not be very happy. But if people can open up and look instead of just seeing that first initial shock—which, of course, I’m going for. I want to shock people. It’s shocking stuff. But if they can just take a moment…they’ll realize they’ve probably felt that way before too. I mean, hopefully.”
In one piece—“actually, one of the first pictures I ever did in college,” says Doty—a young man sits with his arm extended toward the camera, a belt tightened around his bicep and a bruised patch of flesh where the inside bend of his elbow should be. In the background, he holds the bridge of his nose, chagrin or maybe pain in his grimace.
The image is arresting, like others in the show. But, also like the others in the show, it’s artifice. “None of it’s real for the people [photographed] or anything,” says Doty, “It’s just the idea that they all seem so normal, but they all have something hidden.”
Two other pictures from her earlier work aim to expose by incorporating words written on a model’s body. In the works, a woman’s naked torso takes up most of the frame. Hair obscures her neck and face but the words “Self Esteem” and “Beauty Queen” seem carved into her chest, liquid dripping from the wounds. It turns out the wounds are self-inflicted.
“The model for these ones,” says Doty, “that’s actually me…I had a very huge old mirror. It was really hard. It took a lot of concentration because I had to write everything backward on my chest and then hold the camera and sit there and position it so I couldn’t see the camera in the shot and it was really, really hard. And that’s why my arms are up in the picture. I’m holding it completely because there’s no way to get the tripod high enough to get the shot because the bathroom was so small.”
Still, Doty didn’t think she would be exposing herself in the photos.
“I was like, Well, no one can really see my face so no one’s really going to know it’s me…When I presented them, I forgot that my tattoos showed so everyone knew it was me right away and they’re like ‘Wow Amy. Huh. All right.’”
Creating believable scenes in the photos was a feat that required Doty to surmount technical obstacles on a student’s budget. For instance, it left her to do the make-up for both shoots in addition to executing them. Such technical demands appeal to Doty, who aspires to a career making horror films. George Romero, writer and director of Night of the Living Dead, is one of Doty’s heroes, and she plans to attend the Portland Art Institute in January with the goal of breaking into film.
“God, I really want to make horror movies. I want to do not these campy cheesy ones but the ones that really have some kind of hidden message…something that’s emotional and deep.”
Emotional depth is also something Doty tries to pack into her still photography. In one recent series, Doty again writes on her models, for example, transcribing the word “incapable” on a man’s tongue in one picture.
“These are things that I feel,” says Doty, “like being incapable to express myself with spoken words and that’s why I do art.”
In what Doty calls her “lovely bondage set,” another recent series, the business of exposure takes a lighter turn. The most striking of the photographs portrays a couple at a kitchen table. In one chair an elegant young woman sits, stirring a pot of something with a spoon. Her submissive crouches like a tamed animal in the other chair, gagged with a rubber ball and clad in leather straps.
“I just came up with this image,” says Doty. “This lady who’s just so high- class sophisticated, no one would ever suspect anything…this is her dirty little secret and this is the thing exposed.”
Amy Doty’s Exposed opens Friday, June 1, at 5 PM at Ceretana Gallery, 810 Sherwood Ave. Local bands Garden City Expendables, Jacktop Town and Post Boredom Riot perform beginning at 6 PM. $5 donations welcome. Ages 12 and up only.