Sam Contis

In her most recent body of work, Sam Contis uses photography to explore the relationship of bodies to landscape and the shifting nature of gender identity and expression. This photographic series, including Oil and Horseback were made at Deep Springs College, one of the country’s last all-male institutions of higher learning, located in a remote desert valley on the California–Nevada border. Contis’s images capture the beauty of the high desert in macro- and microscopic views. The resonance of earth and body and the sensual echoes of human and animal give her works an Ovidian sense of imminent metamorphoses. Contributing to this sensation of superabundant possibility is the mythic potency of the American West. Although practical education was to some degree the underlying premise of the curriculum, Deep Springs is profoundly idiosyncratic, placing its inhabitants in a world very different from the reality they will likely enter upon graduation. This suite of images, selected in collaboration with the artist, represents the violence and sensuality at the heart of her project.

Throughout Sam Contis’s work is an unobtrusive tenderness, a submerged savagery, and an elusive but insistent sensuality. While Contis’s photographs reflect the history of photography, they also examine a more thorny and contemporary issue: the development of masculine identity. Her recent projects demonstrate, if there was ever any doubt, that old-fashioned photography in the hands of an artist can feel completely up-to-date.