Kathryn Harrison's Exposure came at just the right time for me. I'm currently in the middle of writing a novel about photography, abuse within the arts community, and the fine line between female sexual empowerment and potential exploitation. Harrison's novel touches on so many of the same themes.
Ann Rogers, a seemingly successful and talented wedding photographer/videographer living in New York City, finds her life slowly deteriorating when the Museum of Modern Art decides to showcase a retrospective of her late father's work. The controversial portraits feature Ann as a child and early teen, her prepubescent body often nude or in various states of undress, with some of the photographs bordering on sexually explicit. While feminist groups around the city gather to protest the approach of the upcoming exhibition, claiming that the images are abusive and exploitative, others in the art community deem Edgar's Rogers work to be genius. Caught in a self-destructive cycle of drug use and shoplifting from high-end department stores such as Bergdorf Goodman's, Ann begins to question her own hazy memories of her father and the years she spent as a young girl in Texas. Did her father intentionally hurt her with his secretive and revealing photographs? Who was the true muse behind his haunting portraits?
Exposure is a relatively quick read at only 213 pages. It takes the form of a traditional 3rd person narrative as well as a collection of primary documents such as diary entries, newspaper articles, and court records that help piece the puzzle together. Alternating between a past and present storyline, the novel gives an in-depth look at Ann's crumbling psyche as her painful and increasingly troubling history is revealed. This is a story of trauma but also of strength and eventual survival. It's definitely worth a read!