Stephanie Diani, Joan Arline, The Sexquire Girl, Thousand Palms.

On the Perception of Beauty and Its Ever-Changing Cultural Adaptations

Stephanie Diani, Satan's Angel, Palm Springs.

Stephanie Diani, Candy Baby Caramelo, Las Vegas.

 

Leedy-Voulkos Art Center
2012 Baltimore
Kansas City, MO 64108
816-474-1919
Stephanie Diani
DAMES: Legends of Burlesque

January 6-February 25

By AUSTIN JACOBS

Stephanie Diani attempts to question and challenge our ideal of beauty in modern society.

The main focus of her exhibit is titled DAMES: Legends of Burlesque and features images of women who have performed in Burlesque competitions for decades, some of them more than 50 years. Diani’s exhibit poses the question: is beauty what society perceives it as, or found within? “The artificially sculptured, stick-thin ‘beauty’ that I was seeing in my day-to-day work was nothing like the beauty of these supremely confident women of all shapes, sizes, and ages performing Burlesque in the middle of the desert. They were fabulous,” says Diani.

In 2009 Diani and Leedy-Voulkos shop manager Courtney Wasson met in an elevator at San Francisco’s Sir Francis Drake Hotel. Diani was in the process of shooting her DAMES series, and the two hit it off and wound up having cocktails together and visiting a local art gallery. Says Diani,“I think it ranks as one of my best ‘you never know’ stories so far.” Less than a year later Wasson and gallery manager Erin Woodworth invited Diani to display some of her work at the gallery and Beauty Under Scrutiny began.

As with Sheila Rae (2009, 35mm digital) an aging burlesque star struggling with cancer, some of Diani’s photos elicit sadness. Dressed in elegant, old fashioned clothes the subject is not smiling, she instead casts a worried glance towards the camera unlike most of the other women photographed.

Others, like Big Fannie Annie (2009, 35mm digital), are jovial, full of laughter and life. Nearly filling the frame with her hot pink sequined figure, Annie creates an interesting contrast to the drab floral patterns of the hotel curtains behind her. Most of the women in the series exude this same quality: an obvious feeling of self-confidence and pride despite their surroundings or circumstances.

Diani says photographing the women has helped her appreciate the potential strength in self-confidence and reaffirmed her belief that beauty is more than skin deep. “Burlesque is more about the art of the tease rather than the turn-on, and it strikes me that it takes even more self-possession to perform in that context.” That is what Diani documents best in her series: the obvious feeling of self confidence and pride in all of the women involved.

Diani’s exhibit also includes two fictional series of photos titled Scenes From a Marriage (2009, Medium format digital) and Man Made God (2009, Medium format digital), that use a more Surrealistic style to tell their stories around the themes of relationships, aging, the process of artistic inspiration and the ideal of beauty.

Stephanie Diani, Stephanie Blake, Simi Valley.