Jo Ann Callis dates her introduction to photography to the early '70s, when she was a graduate student at UCLA. By 1977, the year she earned her MFA, she had made all of the work on view now at Rose Gallery: inquisitive, provocative images as compelling as anything she has shot (or painted) throughout her distinguished, 40-year career.
The pictures, both black-and-white and color, were mostly made indoors, in spare settings more emblematically than comfortingly domestic. Nearly all of them involve a single female figure partially concealed, costumed or bound.
In one photograph, legs wrapped in white gauze stand in a tub shallowly filled with inky liquid. In another, a man's black belt encircles a standing nude woman's waist and attaches to a nail in the wall, away from which she tilts, uncomfortably. A strip of duct tape stretches across the shoulder blades of a woman lying face-down. Another woman, standing sculpture-like on a small pedestal before a satin backdrop, is tightly wrapped in fine, criss-crossing twine that etches her flesh.
The influence of three male photographers who fetishized the (mostly) female body earlier in the 20th century -- Hans Bellmer, Pierre Molinier and Paul Outerbridge -- courses through this work, which is inflected as well by the irreverently probing attention women artists of the '70s were paying to the sexualized body, the inner self and the constructs of domesticity.
Callis' staged tableaux are consistently compelling for the way they braid all these forces together, but ultimately because, visually, they are curious and complex, strange and charged.
Rose Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 264-8440, through Aug. 16. Closed Sunday and Monday. www.rosegallery.netCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times