Working with color film, Callis mastered the ability to illustrate opposing emotions in one frame. By cropping out the subject’s head, the image Woman in Slip focuses powerfully on a moment where the push and pull of beauty and angst hold center stage. Francine Prose articulates this focal point in her introduction to the book, where she writes, “These pictures are not only about sex but about the limits and the edges of photography, its power to get up in our faces. They ask whether it is possible to photograph a thought—whether an image can represent something simultaneously sensual and cerebral.” It is also Callis’s visual expertise and decision-making—her green, lilac, and fleshy hues, all seemingly from the same palette—that seduce the viewer to dive deeply into the photograph, and to contemplate the complexity of what he or she sees.
Since the 1960s, Callis has been circling around these complex and often opposing emotions in photographs that are at once aesthetic and discomfiting, delicate and raw, mysterious and thoughtful. The tension in her color photographs is one of her unique contributions to the history of the medium.
Jo Ann Callis (born in Cincinnati, 1940) began teaching at the California Institute of the Arts in 1976. Her work has been widely exhibited in such venues as the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Hammer Museum, and Museum of Contemporary Art, all in Los Angeles; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and Gallery Min, Tokyo. In 2009 a retrospective of her work, Woman Twirling, was presented by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Callis has received three grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Guggenheim Fellowship, among other awards and prizes.