Chuck Ramirez American, 1962-2010

Purse Portraits 2005

Chuck Ramirez began producing his Purse Portraits in 2005. Ramirez initially invited friends to surrender one of their most intimate possessions—their handbag—to be photographed. As the series progressed, Ramirez received more and more commissions. The result is a multi-year ontological study in physicality, staging and referential embellishment, both on the part of the surrogate figure (the purse) and the artist. In these works, elements of staging—of women literally editing the contents of their handbag and the artist arranging these particulars to measured effect—grow more and more unmistakable. For Ramirez, this observation is not a critique of his patrons and subjects but, rather, is very much in keeping with the tradition of portraiture. As mundane as it might initially seem, the purse is arguably the modern woman’s most private domain outside her corporeal self. To enter it without permission is a violation. (My mother taught me this rule as a child.) The physical form of the handbag references the female anatomy, and its clasp or closure is a reiteration of the feminine mystique. A handbag’s contents—staged or not—speak to matters of femininity, identity and, in the case of Ramirez’ work, the projection of the imagined self. On the other hand, the Purse Portraits question the stability of the object and the very concept of objecthood—a sentiment in keeping with notions like Jerry Saltz’ definition of the “non-specific object,” relegating, to some degree, Ramirez’ use of photography to a medium of opportunity. Each surrogate is so obviously an amalgam that any notions about the identity of the sitter can only be provisional. Excerpt of an article by Anjali Gupta. or 30 x 24", 76.2 x 60.9 cm