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In Her Place
A thought-provoking examination of our ideas of sanctuary
In Her Place
Photographs by Peggy Fleming
Three Sisters Press
128 pp.
It's something of a feat to encase the three-dimensional, open space of a gallery exhibition into a bound volume, and there's always the danger of stifling the material by confining it. Happily, this is not the case with Peggy Fleming's In Her Place, a collection of 56 black and white photographs of everyday Washington, DC women in their "places"--their physical and mental sanctuaries.

In Her Place's watchword is diversity: Its subjects range from their 20s to their 90s, and come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Equally varied is their definition of their place. For Zahra Dianat, it's meditation on a cushion next to her bed, presented in a closely cropped frame just fitting her kneeling figure. One page earlier, a large, dynamic close-up of Lydia Mendoza's rapidly pedaling feet portray her idea of a safe, pensive, and rather expansive space. Still elsewhere, there's Carla Cohen, owner of Politics & Prose Bookstore, in the middle of her workday. Doubly interesting is that she could be any one of the six women in the picture; each one's different stance suggests a different possible personality for the unidentified Ms. Cohen.

Fleming says she only started serious photography in her 50s, when she took a course and "a light just came on." She may have found her calling. Although combined with text provided by each photo's subject, many of the images tell rich stories on their own, even--sometimes especially--when the subject's face isn't visible. By the same token, even the most kinetic image conveys the serenity that they feel in their place.

Although I first read the book through from cover to cover, it felt very much like an gallery exhibition. After turning the last page I didn't close the book, instead randomly flipping through photos, in much the same way I find myself meandering through an art gallery once I've finished seeing everything. Looking at the photos a second or third time or in a different order brought new subtleties to light. I anticipate returning to this book again in the near future, if only to discover new, unnoticed details.

Perhaps the most rewarding thing about In Her Place is that it compels you to think about where your sanctuary is. As it happened, I realized that I was already in my place: reading on the couch with a blanket over my legs, sipping cocoa while sunlight streamed in. In that regard I probably got more out of the book than I would have an exhibition, a rare and happy event. But regardless of where your place is, this book will help you appreciate it all the more. If you don't know where it is, then In Her Place just might help you find it.

A Critical Eye exclusive (March 9, 2001)
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