October 2008, Melanie Pullen @ ACE Gallery
MELANIE PULLEN, Dead Man on the Beach, 2007 C-Print Back mounted and framed 60.5 (H) X 80 inches (W) Edition of 3 courtesy ACE Gallery Los Angeles
Melanie Pullen the newest, hottest, made her first big splash with a series of reinvented crime scenes. Using fetchingly attired fashion models posed as unfortunate dead crime victims with nary a thread or shoe askew, she created images perfectly suited to a special edition of Italian Vogue. In Pullen's series it's as if those drug addicted, anorexic models that peopled the heroin chic fad of the mid 90's suddenly started dropping dead and committing suicide in the middle of fashion shoots all over the world.
Comparisons to Diane Arbus were a stretch. Where Arbus used the camera to reveal the true strangeness of the human condition, Pullen used the camera to take beautifully crafted shots of models playing dead. Tepid fare in the age of 'Saw', Southpark, Sue Coe and Joel Peter Witkin.
In her newest series "Violent Times" she continues the theme of prettying up images of violence by bringing her arch sense of style, fashion and impressive photographic talent to images of war through the ages.
Melanie claims "I believe that this kind of imagery, not only evokes a sense of unification, heroism, and confidence, but also contrastingly brings to mind feelings of delusion, loss, fear and terror."
Hmmmm. Wouldn't "I would like to believe" be a little more modest? After walking through the cavernous church-like halls of Ace Gallery on Wilshire near La Brea, viewing rows of beautiful photo's of handsome young men posing this way and that in period costume, I felt the seductive pull of light, color and handsome men in uniforms but not much else. Her theatrical images of men in action and landscapes of war read like movie stills and consequently had the disconnect of a movie still viewed after you have seen the actual film.
At her best, when she is reining in the faux drama or sly commentary, she creates genuinely quiet poetic moments, such as the image of the single dead soldier lying on the beach with a setting sun or in a quiet, snowy forest glen. Her simple almost playful, abstract, close up shots of biowarfare chemicals are beautifully (there's that word again) displayed in a long corridor. But Ms. Pullen seems to vacillate between wanting to take a beautiful shot, tell a real story or comment on the story. She's got beauty covered but the storytelling seems too familiar to hold any real impact and the commentary just isn't that compelling. Two back lit horses, mirror image, majestically pawing the air… like statues seen all over Europe? A familiar blur of WW1 soldiers rushing across the frame on the attack. Didn't I see that film? In my opinion, for the most part, her effort to unite beauty and death ends up looking merely beautiful and dead.