Nothing but Net: Eyes raised in anticipation and arms lifted heavenward, the teenage members of the Goshogaoka girls basketball team, photographed by Sharon Lockhart, seem poised to enter a world far more portentous than that of the high school basketball court.
Lockhart's photographs at Blum & Poe Gallery might initially be mistaken for documentary shots from a Japanese sports magazine. In fact, their game is as staged and mannered as a Kabuki performance, with Lockhart perched invisibly behind the scenes in the director's (or in this case, coach's) chair.
Compulsively choreographed down to the last detail, the girls sport androgynous bowl haircuts and chic red and blue tank tops (designed by Lockhart in collaboration with Issey Miyake). Not a bead of sweat clings to their freshly scrubbed faces. They make gestures to signal, block and shoot, but we never see an actual basketball pass through their hands.
Lockhart is known for making beautiful, airless photographs that look like fashion advertisements or elliptical film stills. Our fascination with their eerie equivocality suggests that the search for transcendence, spiritual and otherwise, is now confined almost exclusively to the frozen realm of images.
Although somewhat less elusive than her previous work, Lockhart's new photographs (produced in conjunction with a 60-minute film, recently screened at the Museum of Contemporary Art) still seem mired in a hopelessly stylized yearning for the beyond. By breaking down the visual grammar of sports narratives, however, Lockhart is more successful at grounding these desires in a recognizable arena of cultural performance.
Lockhart's culmination shot shows team captain Ayako Sano just milliseconds after shooting the ball, her mouth parted, eyes focused squarely on the hoop; will she sink the ball or not? As in all of Lockhart's indeterminate photographs, the stakes are illusory; it's the image that really counts.
* Blum & Poe Gallery, 2042 Broadway, Santa Monica, (310) 453-8311, through March 28. Closed Sundays and Mondays.