The American photographer Naima Green learned to swim before she could walk. The images in A Sequence for Squeezing in her solo exhibition at the Baxter St Camera Club of New York all encapsulate a form of water, whether the Rockaway peninsula’s delirious waves in a wall-covering photograph or a placid glass of water sitting next to a soft-boiled egg being carefully peeled.
“Water means not only cleansing and clarity, but it is also a way to feel small,” she says. “The ocean was the only place I could feel safe and breathe for a while during the peak of the pandemic. I am looking at water not only as a mass but a form of intimate connection with the body.”
The Harlem-based artist’s practice “cannot exist without friends and loved ones around me”, she says. The images’ various subjects—all Black and Brown queer women captured while engaging with the fluidity of water—prove her sentiment.
A trio of images shows the same model on a barren land in Joshua Tree, urinating on the desert in one shot and approaching a pair of legs—perhaps the artist’s own—in another. “A moment of relief and returning the water back to the earth,” Green said about the moment, which warps the qualifiers of privacy and taboo.
A similarly poetic subversion lives in the video The Intimacy of Before (2020). Shot in her former Brooklyn apartment, the nearly nine-minute sequence imagines utopian possibilities in water, far and within, through bodily close-ups and flows of fluids.
“It felt like I was being pulled by a magnet towards the sea,” the artist’s voice-over ruminates while she takes a bath. Two hands pull out a pearl necklace from a vagina; covered with menstrual blood, the once “pure” white of the jewelry is washed in a bold red hue. A canonical symbol of feminine clarity—think Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring—the embellishment is awash yet in another texture of wetness, bodily and immediate.
Maintaining a dual practice as a fine artist and editorial photographer opens new perspectives for Green. She recently shot the Dyke March for New York magazine and went on a cruise to create lifestyle shoots for a luxury cruise line. One of the images in the show is a fruit of this venture; the image Every Long Drop (2021) shows the reflection of a lesbian couple on a plunge pool along with their actual appearances cropped. Through double exposure, the artist complicates the real and the reflected, imbuing what she calls “multiple entry points” to an image outside of her control. “Double exposure is about the angle but also a surprise result on my end, too,” she says.
Similar to Green’s ongoing series Jewels from the Hinterland, which shows Black and Brown women engulfed in nature, the show’s images raise questions about photography’s role in representation. “Who deserves to have a formal portrait of themselves taken?” Green asks. “As my community shifts and grows, it continues to propel everything I do.”
The exhibition stems from Green’s three-month residency with the Chinatown gallery, where she had access to equipment, a photo lab, and a darkroom to produce the new body of work.
- Naima Green: A Sequence for Squeezing, until 23 July at the Baxter St Camera Club of New York