Shelly Mosman's fictional realities


Nymphs in the woods, little girls in costumes of yesteryear, masked men, and adorable pets are sprinkled throughout Shelly Mosman's photographs, now on display at the Minneapolis Photo Center. For "Living Color," Mosman’s lavishly adorned sets and costumes surround her subjects with narrative and cinematic intrigue. However, it’s her ability to capture the enigmatic expressions of her subjects that stays with you. 

For the exhibition, Mosman shares a number of photographs from her Animal Child series, where young girls wear vintage outfits and stand in front of dynamic backdrops along with their dogs. One girl nearly drowns in her oversized, puffed-up sleeves, while another’s face is covered by a turn-of-the-century hat that falls over her eyes. Another girl, the spitting image of a young Natalie Portman, dons a red pirate scarf over her hair, her embroidered floral skirt matching the large printed flowers and leaves behind her.

They all have stoic expressions, and look regal and important with their pets. But they are also alluring in a disturbing way. Dressed as adults from another era, they evoke an uncomfortable feeling of seeing such young models as subjects.

Mosman saturates her images, editing photographs in a way that brings out the shadows and details in her subjects’ skin, making them look a bit like paintings. In her Millennial series, she allows the “flaws” of her subjects — dark veins, wrinkles, stray hairs — to become what makes them unique and beautiful.

At the same time, these are not realistic images, even though there is a realism behind the elaborate and fantastical settings of jungles and faraway islands. The real person posing in the portrait is part of a narrative depiction, so the idea that it’s a facade is never lost. In one image, a fair-haired woman with dreadlocks poses in a bed of flowers, and a gold plate acts as a halo behind her head. The woman is modern, but she’s placed in an ethereal setting, looking like a holy Madonna. Those two aspects play against each other in interesting ways. 

Mosman also shares a number of photographs of men, and they are the most cinematic images of the exhibition. Some of the men wear disguises. There's a bandana over one's mouth, a hat covering another’s eye, and one elder gentleman wears taxidermy as a hat. These images are darker in tone than those in the other series. There are no detailed backdrops, but with costuming they are just as imaginative as the the other pieces.


The photographs of the men look like they might be movie posters, placing the subjects in some fictional story. Of course, we will never get to see these movies, as they don’t exist. Still, we can travel to that world for just a moment. 


Shelly Mosman's "Living Color"

Through November 1

Mpls Photo Center

2400 N. Second St., Minneapolis