By Cate McQuaid
If you know Henry Horenstein as an animal photographer, you may be surprised by ''Show,'' his exhibit of burlesque performers, on view at Walker Contemporary in association with Robert Klein Gallery. But Horenstein has always been a documentary photographer, and in 2001 he happened into the Shim-Sham Club in New Orleans, where he saw the first Tease-O-Rama event, and shot, among others Dita Von Teese. He had stumbled into the neo-burlesque revival and was captivated. The exhibit marks the release of his new book on the subject.
His black-and-white images are mostly grainy. The portrait ''Jackie Beat, California Institute of Abnormalarts, (CIA), Los Angeles, CA,'' sports a shallow focus, blurring certain features and heightening the sense of theatrical surrealism. Jackie Beat's nose nearly disappears, but her extraordinary eyelashes drop vividly, like dark waterfalls. Her artfully composed makeup includes swooping eyebrows and lips painted in a metallic sheen. She wears a skullcap with horizontal stripes.
One wall features confrontational close-ups: a single eye, a mouth, breasts. The mouth in ''Amber Ray, Los Angeles, CA'' is a mix of repulsive and glamorous. Under a notably hairy upper lip, teeth glistening with saliva bite the glittering bottom lip. It's a fierce image. Horenstein has always had a discerning eye for form, foiling expectations and finding unusual beauty in his subjects. The burlesque performers exaggerate form with their over-the-top style, and Horenstein goes along with that, but he doesn't let it distract or seduce him. He's more interested in what he sees than in what he is being shown, and that's what makes him so good.
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