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Art: Abby Robinson’s performance and photos tread a line between the medical and the artistic

<p>Photo of Jenessa Kenway taken by Abby Robinson at P3 Gallery</p>

Photo of Jenessa Kenway taken by Abby Robinson at P3 Gallery

In the adjacent room of The Cosmopolitan’s P3 Studio, a couple is in deep consultation with photo practitioner Abby Robinson, deliberating over which body part to select. I choose a seat among a gathering of burgundy chairs surrounding a glass coffee table with magazines, backed by a trio of fake ficuses.

Making use of the time, I grab a clipboard to fill out the Body Imaging patient questionnaire. The form is pretty standard — until it asks for “the approximate number of photographs taken of you in the last six months?” which is quickly followed by “were there any side effects?” Interesting question. Are there side effects to having one’s picture taken? What might they be? My curiosity grows as I wait my turn.

“Are you going to do one?” queries the woman emerging from her completed visit with a huge smile, heading to the window to hang her body specimen.

A moment later Robinson steps into the waiting room in a white lab coat, stethoscope in pocket. “I can see you now, whenever you’re ready.”

Posters of medical diagrams adorn the walls above shelves containing rolls of gauze, medical charts, orange pill bottles, urine sample jars, boxes of film and boxes of rubber gloves. An X-ray monitor resting on a pedestal illuminates glowing blue brain scans.

Robinson offers me a seat at a large cherrywood desk. “So, knee or wrist?” she asks, referring to the parts I indicated on the form. “Does one have more history than the other?” I tell her that both were involved in a bicycle accident a year ago, each now marked with the faint pattern of a scar.

She nods. “We might be able to do both. Lets go into the studio and take a look.”

We head into an exam room masked by a white curtain, but in place of an examination table a stool sits in front of a black background, photo lights and a white reflector umbrella situated to the right. My wrist and knee are positioned together, and Robinson gets in close, aiming a large macro lens at the specified area. After only a few minutes the examination is complete and images are uploaded to a laptop. The isolated knee and wrist look abstract, a strange landscape almost foreign to me.

“How did you get started going this?” I ask as we peruse the shots.

“I do a lot of self-portraits, but also when I go to the doctor’s office I photograph myself,” Robinson admits. “If I have something to do, I’m working, so I’m not a patient and it doesn’t make me as nervous.”

“Aaah, so you’re not a fan of the doctor’s office,” I laugh, noting the ironic role reversal of Robinson’s photo examination procedure putting her on the other side of the exam table.

After we agree on a superior specimen, the image fires over to the printer and moments later two copies pop out. Robinson separates them with a paper cutter and deftly inserts them into plastic I.D. badges on black cords. I head to the window to hang my image, taking note of nearby badges containing a naked bum, a crouched jumble of tattoos, and hands concealing a male genital area. Viewing the accumulated body parts hanging from strings in plastic pouches has the forensic quality of accumulated evidence.

Affixing the small suction cup to window, I ask, “Do you think this is therapeutic in some way?”

“I suspect for some people it might be therapeutic,” Robinson says. “For one thing, it allows people to see parts of their body they don’t often get to see, and there’s no judgment about whether you’re thin or fat … people also like that they get something for participating. So, there’s an exchange.”

Each participant leaves with a copy of their body image. In some ways, Robinson’s “exchange” is not all that different from the exchange that takes place during a visit with a physician, except for the use of a different set of tools. The cool disc of the stethoscope to chest is replaced by the winding focus of a lens at close range.

“Doctors and photographers are the only people that are allowed to examine people close up and people don’t get upset. The only other people that get that close to you are your lovers.”

ABBY ROBINSON PRESENTS BODY IMAGING Through Aug. 18, P3 Studio at the Cosmopolitan, 3708 S. Las Vegas Blvd.