A Gallery show focuses on women, empowered

Island Women: Hallie, Ellie, Bella, and Jennifer — Paul Lazes

A Gallery’s final show of 2017 spotlights two Island artists who are honoring women through the lens of a camera and a video recorder, respectively. Along with new work by painters Billy Hough and Rob Hauck, the gallery will host two very different types of exhibits — a series of larger-than-life photos of Island women shot by Paul Lazes, and a five-minute video featuring close-up shots of women looking into the camera by Christina Montoya.

Both artists have chosen to tell a story or, rather multiple stories, with their work. About two years ago Mr. Lazes began a project of capturing full-length body portraits of Island women in a series called “Tough Chicks.” “I was very aware that a lot of smart, independent, unique women live on the Vineyard,” he says. “I compare it to coming from Manhattan [his former home], where everybody’s on the corporate ladder. Here everyone carves out their little niche.” Seven of Mr. Lazes photos, blown up larger than life, currently occupy one wall of A Gallery.

Ms. Montoya’s video focuses on women’s faces, in particular their eyes, as they look directly ahead while being filmed for a few seconds each. “I am very interested in exploring the relationship between vulnerability and strength,” says Ms. Montoya.

Of the short video installation playing in a loop on a monitor, A Gallery owner Tanya Augoustinos says, “It really matches well with Paul’s piece.”

Mr. Lazes originally started his series when he discovered that he could get quality photos and edit them with his iPhone. He started taking full-length shots of women he admired, and decided to do an entire series. So far he has shot about 50 photos, and plans to complete more than 100. In 2015 he showed five of the enlarged shots at A Gallery, and this past year he displayed 20 smaller prints at a women’s support group meeting at the Harbor View Hotel.

All the larger-than-life photos currently hanging at A Gallery are on display for the first time. His subjects range in age from teens to seniors, and represent a broad spectrum of society. Some of the women Mr. Lazes has known for some time. Others are strangers who caught his attention for one reason or another: “It’s interesting to be able to have a one-on-one situation with someone you don’t know. You get to know them very quickly in kind of an intimate way.”

Among the subjects are entrepreneurs and artists, some well known on the Island, along with working women and teenagers. All have one thing in common — they fit Mr. Lazes’ definition of “Tough Chicks.”

After seeing the earlier exhibit of his work at A Gallery, Monina Von Opel, who curates the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital’s collection of artwork, invited Mr. Lazes to fill an entire hallway with his images blown up to life-size. The photographer is now undertaking an Indiegogo campaign to raise $6,000 for production and installation of 40 to 50 photos. Mr. Lazes is having the images enlarged at the UPS store. He is offering prints of individual photos in any size for sale.

Ms. Montoya is a dancer and writer who recently started experimenting with videography. She explains the motivation behind her 5½-minute video, “SEEN.” “The initial inspiration was based on a poem I wrote quite some years ago, called ‘I Got That Thing,’” she says. “It basically speaks to quality or essence I recognize in myself and other women, but it’s hard to put words to.”

While working on a film dance project in Cuba last year, she got the idea to film women’s faces in silent clips. Of the Cuba project she recalls, “One clip was filming someone looking into the camera. I found it really powerful.”

For the clips of Island women, she allowed them to choose a location and didn’t offer any sort of direction aside from asking them to “be whatever it is you want to be in the moment.”

“Each person had a different level of comfort,” says Ms. Montoya. “Whether they were shy, serious, joking, I wanted to honor the women choosing to do this, so that became part of the process too, talking to people about being seen in front of the camera — the vulnerability that creates.”

The short video, featuring 20 women of all ages and ethnicities, is mesmerizing. Through the brief video portraits, accompanied by classical guitar, one really gets a glimpse into the personalities of the women in a very intimate way.

Ms. Montoya hopes to impart a message with the piece. “I wanted to make something that really bumps up against the objectification of women,” she says. “That’s why I chose to do headshots. It brings your attention to their eyes. I wanted to make something that supports the humanizing of women. It was important to me to choose a diverse section of women.”

Empowering women is the objective for both Mr. Lazes and Ms. Montoya, although each has chosen a different medium and a different way of expressing the message.

Mr. Lazes hopes to take his mission a few steps further. “I am putting together a campaign to name 2018 the Year of the Woman for all of the elections,” he says. “In a way it’s quite timely that I’m doing this. I plan to spend the next year supporting women candidates who are running for office. I think that’s a momentum that’s worth capturing.”

A Gallery’s show will hang through the end of December. Featured artists who will be showing new work include Rob Hauck, Billy Hough, Alexander Carreño, and Lucy Baker. A Gallery is open Thursday through Sunday, 11 am to 5 pm, 8 Uncas Ave. in Oak Bluffs (across from the Barn, Bowl and Bistro).