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American Beauties

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It's late, much too late to be sitting at a diner, fidgeting, bored, stuck between two men whose attention resides elsewhere. Witness Edward Hopper's Nighthawks and that porcelain, redheaded beauty looking down at her hand, stuck in the silence, a trophy of 1940s beauty standards and not much more. Of course, she joins a legion of 20th century women trapped on canvas by the artistic hands of a male vision. Consider that dour farmer's wife in American Gothic by Grant Wood, or Roy Lichtenstein's Drowning Girl, who swirls in the waters of her own capitulation and misery.

In fact, when it comes to iconic images of women, only Rosie the Riveter by Norman Rockwell, who graced posters in 1942, stands strong, full of courageous enthusiasm and independence. Rosie was the most successful ad campaign in American history, encouraging more than two million women to go to work and aid the war effort. Yet when the blush of war victory faded, those riveters once again found themselves trapped within the four walls of their suburban homes.

Photographer Drew Jordan sought to release these women from their rendered identities and offer them a contemporary narrative. In this series of photographs, Jordan offers Rosie, the diner companion, and the drowning girl — as well as Boxer by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Whistler’s Mother by James Abbott McNeill Whistler, and Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth — a new, different interpretation of their stories, courtesy of the camera lens. And in that creative act, he forces us to reconsider the stories of these women who came before us, allowing us to celebrate their solitude as a triumph, and their self-possession as infinite.

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