Nobody blushes when they're alone. Someone is always looking. The blush might express embarrassment, surprise, something the blusher can't even name—but the only certainty is that you know you're being seen. Blushing is a perfect subject for photography, mysterious and right on the surface.
Ariana Page Russell has always been a blusher. She has dermatographia, an allergic reaction to touch that occurs in about 5 percent of the population and includes easy blushing. Most of the time, her fair skin simply looks innocent, translucent, both susceptible and expressive. But for the camera, she runs knitting needles across it and, a few minutes later, painless red welts rise.
Her body holds the patterns long enough so that she can shoot, and then they disappear. It's a performance as much as a photograph. At the opening of her first solo show in New York last year, at Magnan Projects, she gave the needles to visitors and let them draw on her for a video.
In Seattle, Russell's work has popped up only in group shows. This month at SOIL Gallery, she is showing a series of collaborative photographs with Allison Manch. The series in the SOIL show, Leather and Lace, is an experiment. Russell and Manch dressed up and posed for photographs as Stevie Nicks, Kate Bush, Siouxsie Sioux, and Debbie Harry. They translated those photographs digitally into temporary tattoos that they wore in other photographs, creating final images that depict a humorous, ever receding world of skin-deep imitations and look-alikes.
Russell's solo work is quieter. She is an ambivalent performer and a young artist (she got her MFA in photography from UW in 2005) who feels like she's "on the verge of something." It's her ambivalence that's attractive. She photographs parts of her naked body, but she shies away from too much exposure. The camera struggles to find focus in large, close-up prints of nonmarked skin that look like staticky pink fields interrupted by freckles and tiny white-blond hairs.
The welts give the lens—and the artist and viewer—something to hold onto. They symbolize pain but are not caused by it, cutting the usual link made in images of scarification. Like Russell herself, they show themselves to the camera, and then they hide.