Tanyth Berkeley first came to the attention of the art world with her 2002 – 2004 series “Orchidaceae” – a series of 16 color portraits of different young women she had met on the subway and persuaded to pose for her in city parks. Photographed in relative close-up, eyes averting the camera, Berkeley’s subjects, all of whom could be described as unusual or atypical looking, invited the viewer to create their own narrative or explanation while questioning traditional notions of beauty. Berkeley’s unique style combined both painterly effect and photographic clarity in a novel and distinctive way. Influenced by artists as diverse as Toulouse-Lautrec, Egon Schiele, and Diane Arbus – Berkeley’s work signaled the arrival of an original and wholly contemporary new vision, and was recognized as such when the Museum of Modern Art selected Berkeley for their “New Photography” show in 2007…
After Tanyth Berkeley approaches strangers on the subway to make an appointment for a photograph, the resulting portraits are striking evidence of the artist’s newfound friendships with compelling young women. Berkeley’s series of female portraits, Orchidace, refer to the rare species of orchids coveted for their unusual flowers. Focused attentively on the variety of natural representations of female beauty, Berkeley has considered many art historical and cinematic female subjects—from Bresson’s adolescent Mouchet and Bergman’s Monika, to Manet’s urban portrait “The Street Singer” and Rossetti’s “Ophelia.” Berkeley entertains a strong identification with her subjects, and perhaps a shared sentiment about mainstream standards of beauty…
Tanyth Berkeley interview
I started taking photos on my own at 14 and knew I wanted to study photography. The photo program at City College was run by a wonderful man named Bruce Haebegger whose specialty was pinhole photography. Starting with nothing, he made City College a great place to learn photography. I started taking photographs in high school when I wasn’t actually in school, truancy being my best subject, and I have been shooting on a regular basis ever since, though I’ve gone through many phases. At City College, I explored the outer reaches of directorial photography. Using myself as the subject, I reenacted a few Ophelia-inspired scenes and pretended to be a kind of nude Frances Farmer fighting an arrest, being dragged away by Nurse Ratched-type peons. It was a lot of fun!