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Pin-up girls on the Avenue

Rebecca V Gallery goes â€Ë"50s nudes

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Once upon a time Anthony Valenzuela collected black and white photos, the kind that were slid across the newspaper shop counter covertly wrapped in paper. These risqué, pre-Hustler, post-Betty Grable girlie photos made it into the trembling hands of their purchasers and then, years later, into Valenzuela’s.

Not content with the photos themselves, Valenzuela began collecting the negatives from these photo sessions, and has amassed a collection, to date, of 3,000.

Finally succumbing to peer pressure, Valenzuela put together a show of 40 images rendered in archival giclee print on canvas. While the Rebecca V Gallery will sell any of the images, they will not print more than 10, and Valenzuela will keep the negatives to prevent mass distribution of any single image.

The show opening on June 2 featured some real live pin-up girls provided by Rob Butler of RJB Photo.

“It was a great turnout, there was lots of interest,” recalls gallery director Kelly Joseph. “I didn’t see too much shock. I think people either saw the ad or the invitation and were prepared, and genuinely interested.”

The art hanging does show a lot to be interested in, and not just unclothed body parts.

The photos have an informal quality.  Some are subtle and capture a near-innocence reminiscent of Holly Golightly in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Some are less subtle and have an almost tawdry quality that still maintains a vestige of innocence compared to today’s porn.

While the canvasses may be less artsy than Man Ray, they show an awareness of light and composition that renders them artful.

But more arresting than the basic composition and form is the capturing of the women in a time before Botox, liposuction or implants.  Settings that show the potential extemporaneous quality of the photo shoots, with cardboard boxes and space heaters visible in the frames, add candor to the shots, and also leave questions about the photo sessions: Did the women know what they were getting into? Did they have a couple of cocktails and suddenly clothing-optional photography sounded like a good idea?

These women on the canvases are self aware yet comfortable; they wear large lacy underpants under wooly tights, they expose their bottoms, they sport bared breasts while looking in the eye of the camera. Yet you can imagine these women as Girls Friday applying their lipstick in the office buildings where they work, hoping to meet a nice man to settle down and buy appliances with.

As a whole, the show is a titillating peak at a time past, at stories that our mothers or grandmothers might have tried to keep under wraps.

[Rebecca V Gallery, through June 30, 3010 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253.572.9111]

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