Pictura Gallery

Kelli Connell

Double Life, 20 Years

Dates + Events

June Gallery Walk: Kelli Connell

Friday, June 2 | 5:00pm - 9:00pm

+ Add to Calendar | More Info

August Gallery Walk | Kelli Connell

Friday, August 4 | 5:00pm - 8:00pm

+ Add to Calendar | More Info

July Gallery Walk | Kelli Connell

Friday, July 7 | 5:00pm - 8:00pm

+ Add to Calendar | More Info

August Pictura Kids: Comics

Saturday, August 5 | 11:00am - 12:00pm

+ Add to Calendar | More Info

Many people initially think that Double Life is a series of self-portraits. Indeed, the figure and face of model Kiba Johnson have become synonymous with Kelli Connell’s name. In many ways, Kiba is a stand-in for the photographer, and Connell uses her to play multiple sides of her own self.

Connell’s process is reliant on her invisible presence in the photographs. She sets up the shot and then steps into the scene with Kiba to build a believable interaction. Although Connell is there in the formative moment, she later cuts herself out of the frame and inserts a double of Kiba in her place.

The emotional richness of the photographs stems from their ambiguity. Connell composes scenes that pause in the indecisive moment, and characters who linger in slow time. This open-endedness makes it difficult for the viewer to categorize the subjects or define the nature of their relationship. But it’s apparent that intimacy grows there, and Connell seems to draw the pulse of her imagery from this source.

Double Life
exists in a world built of unanswered questions. In an interview with Meghan Maloney Connell speaks to the power of the unresolved space that she creates between two people.

“Most of my work evokes a quiet tone that is charged – whether this charge is from a sexual tension or an unspoken elephant in the room that neither figure is addressing. It is true that overall the images evoke a warmth, even where sadness may be present. The earlier images in the series explore self discovery about sexuality and who we are in relationships in a parallel with what I was discovering about myself in my own life. These images reflect the first stages of relationships – meeting, flirting, making out, fighting, making up, etc. In my recent images I have been pushing the emotional range of my work in order to depict a deeper understanding of the self and of relationships as they evolve over time. Now that I have been in a long term relationship for several years, I am interested in depicting the low points, struggles, joys, boredom, and empathy that one discovers about the self after being in a relationship for a long period of time.”

The photographs in this exhibition are part of a much larger body of work, one that has been ongoing for twenty years. Connell crafts a recognizable picture of the complex and bonded feelings and small moments of a long-term relationship. That it feels so real, when it’s entirely constructed, is a marvel.

Kelli Connell is an artist whose work investigates sexuality, gender, identity and photographer / sitter relationships. Her work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the J Paul Getty Museum among others. Recent publications include PhotoWork: Forty Photographers on Process and Practice (Aperture) and the monograph Kelli Connell: Double Life (DECODE Books). Connell has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, MacDowell, and The Center for Creative Photography. Kelli Connell lives in Chicago where she teaches at Columbia College Chicago.

The large-scale, color photographs in Double Life appear to document the lives of two women in a relationship, when actually these images are digitally created montages of the same model, Kiba Jacobson, seen doubled as she plays both characters in each scenario. Using the computer as a tool to create a believable situation is not that different from accepting any photograph as an object of truth, or by creating a story about two people seen laughing or quarreling in a restaurant. This work is an honest representation of the fluidity of the self in regards to decisions about intimate relationships, sexuality, gender, family, belief systems and lifestyle options.

The project’s multi-year span opens up new dialogues about women and aging and explores polarities of identity such as the masculine and feminine psyche, the irrational and rational self, and the motivated and resigned. By combining multiple images of the same model in each image, the dualities of the self are defined through body language and clothing worn. The importance of these images lies in the representation of interior dilemmas portrayed as an external object: a photograph. Through these images, viewers are presented with constructed realities that reveal complicated truths.

Exhibition Archives