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Caitlin Atkinson: Recent Photographs

Essay by Cindy Moore

It is almost evidence of a crime. In perplexed devastation, a woman holds in her hands the charred remains of a casserole dish - a smoking gun, pointing back to the culprit. Witnessing the starched cleanness of the floral apron, the roses out of focus in the far corner, we recognize this as a plan gone woefully wrong. What started out as special meal has turned into a domestic disaster.

Eerily cinematic, the scene transcends the banal facts of its reality. More than a ruined meal, it is tragedy. It is the pieta of Betty Crocker.

Caitlin Atkinson captures mundane moments of epic failure. Escaped dogs, accidental falls, misplaced cars in parking lots — these common scenes of daily distress are steeped in regret. The fact that we negotiate these tasks almost every day — park the car, walk the dog, cook a meal- makes these seemingly slight failings monumental. How can we get such simple things wrong?

Between all of the aspects of daily life, we are expected to maintain such a high level of constant competency. In Atkinson’s staged photographs, we see the breakdown of the system. The endless train of chores, chugging away on a daily basis, has derailed.

Her photographs, named chapters, portray a woman that has failed. We witness serial moments in which the character cannot be everything for everyone -- despite her efforts or perhaps because of them. Momentarily alone in the society, her vulnerability is palpable, but the absurdity of the situation is tinged with dark humor.

Atkinson writes of this series:

"A few nights ago, I locked myself out of my apartment for the third time this year. While I sat trying to decide what to do, I was overwhelmed with the thought that my life seems composed of one mistake after another; that I am living through a seemingly endless series of disappointments. No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to get it right."

But in this touching series, she gets it exactly right. Immaculately lit, the photographs hover between genre painting and cinema -- embodying domestic pathos while articulating the complexities of contemporary life. Empathetic, warm, and oddly charming, they speak to the human experience -- shining light on our shared fallibility.

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