Despite his stature as an accomplished art photographer, Jock Sturges is a paradoxical figure. His work is based on a sublime representation of nature, youth and beauty, but it can induce discomfiture, at least among Americans. Famous for his photographs of young people, especially girls on the cusp of womanhood, Sturges typically poses his subjects outdoors, often on beaches where the sand and sea set off the soft, sculptural contours of their budding femininity, which would be no problem if they were wearing anything at all, but most of them aren't. And while photo books featuring nudist families with kids were once commonplace, all that ended with the age of Oprah, openness and publicized child abuse scandals, making any nude images of children a verboten subject — at least in America. Many Europeans take nudity in stride, leaving Americans to squirm when confronted with beautiful and beautifully photographed youths who happen not to be wearing anything.
A few are partially covered. In Floss et Megan-Tara, Montalivet, France (pictured), an older and a very young girl appear huddled in a dark shawl or blanket, but they also have the typically tawny flesh, sun-bleached hair and contemplative expressions that Sturges favors. Some are seen over time. Eva, Le Porge, France appears as a mythic nymph floating in a black and white sea in 2003, and then reappears in 2006 framed in a sunny window as a maternal woman arranges her golden tresses in the shadows behind her. She turns up again, in a spectacular 2009 image, as a mature young woman reflected in a mirrorlike tidal pool while a very young girl stands as still as a statue nearby. And it's hard not to think of mythic Greek deities transported to the coast of France in these oddly obsessive visions of stylized, idealized and mostly very young and blonde, French women at play — even as we marvel at how they function as Rorschach tests for whatever Americans project on them. — D. Eric Bookhardt
Jock Sturges: Photographs
Through May 28
A Gallery For Fine Photography, 241 Chartres St., 568-1313; www.agallery.com