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The many faces of grandma

There are cozy grandmas in slippers and aprons and support hose pooling around their ankles.

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There are rich grandmas in princess-y white bedrooms ornamented with gaudy gold furniture and a housemaid standing at the ready.

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And there are vampy grandmas, their thinning platinum hair prodded into a coquettish flip, their come-hither eyes rimmed with black liner and an ashtray full of lipstick-stained Viceroys that clock their restless sensuality.

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Argentine photographer Gaby Messina's Grand Women at Mason Murer Fine Art pays homage to the endless taxonomical variations of Nanas, Nonas and Grammies in their many habitats: eating a solitary lunch at the kitchen table or perched in a nightie at the edge of a bed listening to the radio as if roused from a fitful sleep. The images evoke pictures of saints performing their humble ministrations and life's callings: forming gnocchi or sweeping front stoops.

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Messina's grandmothers-centered photography project is loving and quirky, but also prone to provoke sadness. Messina documents one of society's most overlooked citizens: the elderly women whose inner lives we assume extends to home cooking and handicraft. These portraits are often poignant glimpses at lives bookended by solitude, by beloved hobbies or former vocations.

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A number of Messina's grannies pose with compact, alert dogs small enough to fit in your lap, the devoted constant companions and suggestive balms for loneliness when husbands and friends have departed. In "Irma y Pichina," the pup's glorified status in this Granny World is clear. The wary grandma who grips a twig-slender doggie leg protectively between her fingers has allowed her privileged pooch to perch on the kitchen counter. Irma looks capable and strong, but the rheumy-eyed, melancholic dog with his weepy expression looks like Al Jolson about to break into a trilling rendition of "Mammy."

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Several of the grandmas suggest occupancy in a vanished world of both domestic comfort and heart-tugging yearning. They collect Hummel figurines whose perfect pigtails and frozen kisses suggest a vanished, idealized childhood.

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In an image titled "Olga," a grandma sits in an empty bedroom. On a wall behind her are photos of two small children flanking two neatly made twin beds. The room evokes sons or daughters long departed but who Grandma keeps close by, safeguarded in her heart.



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