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Leigh Ledare: Pretend You're Actually Alive (2008)


Pretend You’re Actually Alive (2000–08), the artist’s best-known work and his most subversive to date, was made in collaboration with his aging ex-ballerina mother over a period of eight years. In the images, she offers herself with disarming explicitness to her son’s camera and to the unknown public of the resulting images. She appears in the most compromising poses, engaging in the most private actions, posing and performing for the camera au naturele, occasionally with a sex partner. The result is unsettling, as gripping as it is disconcerting. And there is little else like them in the history of photography.

Leigh Ledare
Glossy, 2002
silver gelatin print
33 × 22.9 cm
(12 3/8 × 9 in.)
Edition of 5 + 2AP

Leigh Ledare
Hot Licks, 2002
c-print
76.2 × 101.6 cm
(30 × 40 in.)
Edition of 5 + 2AP

Leigh Ledare
Mom with Scepter, 2003
c-print
40.6 × 50.8 cm
(16 × 20 in.)
Edition of 5 + 2AP

Leigh Ledare
Mom with Mask, 2002
c-print
68.6 × 101.6 cm
(27 × 40 in.)
Edition of 5 + 2AP

Leigh Ledare
Blow Job, 2002
c-print
35.6 × 27.9 cm
(14 × 10 3/8 in.)
Edition of 5 + 2AP

Despite the blatant imagery, there is often more to these photographs than what we are immediately shocked to see. Certain details give an inexplicable gravity to the even more inexplicable strangeness of the photographs. Their titles, moreover, are significant: the denominator, “Mom, ” that appears so often in them makes the pictured Tina Peterson both universal and particular. She is the photographer’s mother, yes, but “Mom” is also a stand-in for the category of motherhood in itself.

Leigh Ledare
Mother and catch 22, 2002
c-print
89.5 × 59.4 cm
(35 1/16 × 23 1/8 in.)
Edition of 5 + 2AP

Leigh Ledare
Mom in New Home, 2007
c-print
76 × 101 cm
(29 5/16 × 39 1/4 in.)
Edition of 5 + 2AP

Leigh Ledare
Brother High, 2002
silver gelatin print
33 × 22.9 cm
(12 3/8 × 9 in.)
Edition of 5 + 2AP

Leigh Ledare
Me and Meghan on Last Morning, 2005
silver gelatin print
40.6 × 22.9 cm
(16 × 9 in.)
Edition of 5 + 2AP

Leigh Ledare
Mom as Baby Jane, 2004
c-print
154.9 × 121.9 cm
(60 3/8 × 47 3/8 in.)
Edition of 5 + 2AP

Leigh Ledare
Mom and me in thrift store, 2005
c-print
76.2 × 101.6 cm
(30 × 40 in.)
Edition of 5 plus 2AP

They are accompanied by a paper trail of the mother and son’s odd shared life as seen through journal-like notes, hand-scribbled documents, carefully saved magazine pages, old photographs, and other ephemera, which contextualize and complicate the in-your-face explicitness of some of the images.


Leigh Ledare
Mom in Seventeen Magazine, 1966
Rare magazine tear sheet
33 × 25.4 cm
(13 × 10 in)

And, alongside the apparently crude photographs are other images in the series: Mom ethereal in the living room in soft afternoon light with a wrist brace; a family snapshot of mother and son as she helps him adjust his tie for a high school dance; hospital images of Ledare’s dying grandmother; his new wife, innocently, buoyantly striding down stairs in white on their wedding day. It is precisely in the ambivalence created by bringing these tender and strangely touching images into contact with the others that the contradictory force of Ledare’s project reveals is complexity.

Leigh Ledare
Mom with Wrist Brace, 2008
c-print
50.8 × 40.6 cm
(20 × 15 15/16 in.)
Edition of 5 + 2AP

Leigh Ledare
Grama Holding Muscle, 2002
c-print
22.9 × 33 cm
(9 × 12 3/8 in.)
Edition of 5 + 2AP

Leigh Ledare
Brother and his Wife at stove, 2001
silver gelatin print
27.9 × 35.6 cm
(10 3/8 × 14 in.)
Edition of 5 + 2AP

Leigh Ledare
Me and Mom on bed frontal, 2006
c-print
38 × 56 cm
(14 3/8 × 22 in.)
Edition of 5 + 2AP

Leigh Ledare
Untitled (Entire Roll), 2008
c-print
135.9 × 201.9 cm
53 1/2 × 79 1/2 in
Edition of 3