Debora Hunter is standing in front of the windows of Neiman Marcus peering in. It's an overcast Wednesday morning just days before the Dallas Art Fair where Hunter, a longtime Dallas-based photographer, is the 2016 honoree. With that title comes an opportunity to give a talk at a pre-party for the fair and a window display on Main Street in the downtown flagship store, which is where we are when the fashion designer Jackson Hartig, dressed in a bright yellow jacket, stops to say hello. His Los Angeles-based fashion house is featured in the corner windows, complete with wild collages and larger-than-life cardboard sculptures of canines.
"Your work is just riotous," says Hunter, introducing herself. Harting joins us looking into the windows at Hunter's photographs, which are shots of her doing exactly that: looking into the windows. The images combine the luxurious window displays with reflections of street life, whether passersby, architecture, construction or advertisements. "Beautiful," remarks Harting. "Just stunning."
Much of Hunter's photographic work is interested in the idea of place and its many effects. She's shot a large body of work in Taos, New Mexico, a landscape she describes as cinematic. Lately, she's become interested in the idea of site-specific photography projects. For a recent exhibition at Brookhaven College she used the smaller gallery to explore the imperfections of the white wall, speckled from years of applying and reapplying paint. She photographed the walls from specific distances and then mounted the photographs at various shapes and sizes on those same walls. That project's minimalism stands in bright contrast to her work hanging in the windows at Neiman's.
"I wanted to capture the stylized pageantry of the window world in contrast with the bustling city and its architecture," says Hunter. What resulted are images rich with narrative and commentary on everything from class to femininity.
In one image of a female mannequin in a bright red skirt-suit standing akimbo in a power position, a small sign reads "Confident Reds." The reflection angles to double the female figure, layering it with a skyscraper and a construction crane at the center. The focus of the human eye would downplay the visual complexity, ignoring everything but the bedecked mannequins. Hunter's camera captures it all. Suddenly the visual world is rich with ideas of posture as corporeal architecture and fashion as constructed image.
Most passersby didn't notice her taking their picture, which allowed her to overlay unwitting expressions of sadness, desire, stress or confusion onto the opulent displays. Hunter found herself becoming sentimental about the subjects of these incidental portraits; when she came across the subject of one on the street a few days later, she stopped the person to introduce herself.
To capture what manifested as a display of six images, Hunter spent close to 20 hours standing at the windows photographing into them. She estimates that of the thousands of images she captured, 50 could be displayed as part of the series. She parsed those down to the half dozen most visually rich images, each of which lures viewers closer.
"I had to choose the images that popped on the street," says Hunter. "Then, if a viewer starts looking at the images like the camera would, you see a reflection of a tree overhead, or a truck driving by."
Hunter is the first local Dallas Art Fair Honoree. The 8-year-old event awarded the first honor three years ago to real estate mogul turned Chicago-based artist Paula Crown, followed by performance artist Karen Finley (who was recently in town with her show, The Jackie Look). Perhaps Hunter's selection will mark a new tradition of building a closer relationship between established local artists and the fair. For Hunter, the honor comes on the eve of her retirement from teaching at Southern Methodist University for four decades. It also leads directly into her current project, which is photographing the transformation of Fashion Industry Gallery (FIG) into the Dallas Art Fair, documenting the behind-the-scenes artistry.
"There's so much that goes into these things that you don't see if you're not looking for it," she says. But through her camera, Hunter sees it all.
Debora Hunter's window display remains up at the downtown Neiman Marcus through Sunday, April 17.
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