I See Who You AreUntitled (2014)

Kara Neko was one of the first Tumblr models I followed.

At least initially, what drew me to her work was the deeply contemplative stillness of her self-presentation.

Like a total newbie, I fouled up the attribution on a image of hers. Almost immediately, she messaged about my error and dazzled me with her polite charm.

A bit more than a year ago, Kara began collaborating with Tetsu on I See Who You Are (ISWYA). 

What with my own pathological obsession with questions of public vs. private, representations of sexuality and the arbitrary nature of so-called social propriety, I was bound to be interested in the project.

Kara’s commentary ended up being my preliminary take away w/r/t the projects underlying conceptualization:

It’s our intention to create strong balanced and emotional portraits charged with positivity. You see photographed here, a girl looking inward, outward and for connectedness in the world around her. .

ISWYA has grown substantially. Kara’s friend, photographer Jonathan Waiter–who is battling cancer–and a handful of art models have participated.

Of late, I’ve grown ambivalent toward the project. Certain images move me but I feel it’s more luck of the draw than craft.

For example: this snatches my eye because Sylvia is the flavor of ‘beautiful’ customarily reserved solely for poetry. Then there’s how the slightly muted colors accentuating the bleaching effect of winter light and rendering impossibly perfect facial skin tone.

In turn, the dulled colors balance Sylvia’s delightfully mismatched socks against the fulcrum of the tote bag upon which she is seated.

Plus, this might as well have been shot in my actual backyard for how far it is from my apartment–a proximity which makes it even harder to believe how calm Sylvia is of her undress, openness of her pose. (Were it me, I would’ve been terrified…)

But as much as I like various facets, the work ultimately chafes me.

The reason has to do with the artists’ statement that now accompanies the work:

The images presented strive to portray a woman’s sensuality as an organic part of her environment. Rather than simply acting as nudes they create a new lexicon in the geography of the feminine form.By taking away the importance of clothing to cover ones body, the model’s emotions have become more apparent. The aspect of nudity becomes just another ingredient of the image rather than the only one. Too often in nude photography the emotional aspect is disregarded, and the viewer is left with simply a naked body. Here you are able to connect personally to a woman’s being and contemplate the elements of her life that might exist but cannot necessarily be seen.

Often in life we use our personal style as way to define who we are to the world, such as the clothes we wear or the latest technology we possess. With so many elements to explore we become detached characters, unable to connect to one another or even ourselves. When we unveil our masks and allow ourselves to be vulnerable we are confronted with what exists within: the insecurities, sadness, joy, and the instinctual desire to live and love.

As far as the tendency for the inclusion of additional context to diminish the tendency of nude imagery to simply leave the viewer with a naked body, ISWYA is v. on point.

Beyond that the conceptualization stands starkly at odds with the work.

By focusing on the body in an environment, there’s a v. fine line separating non-landscape imagery from landscape imagery. The image above with Sylvia is close enough to the subject that the inconsistent composition is masked by the exquisite balancing of colors. Whereas when the photographer is farther from the subject, the incidental nature of the handheld camera and the snap-it-quick-before-anyone-sees imperative that work close up, result in images that feel forced and feature the sort of sloppy as fuck composition you’d expect from a goat wearing a jet pack on a trampoline during an earthquake.

But that’s a lesser problem in the scheme of things. There’s the matter of eye contact, to consider.

As per Kara’s original framing where a girl is looking inward, outward and for connection with the world. Note how there is an equality between the photographing and a holistic presentation of self.

The image above suggests a total inversion of that framework. Replacing the tendency to isolate the viewer and a naked body with coy flirtation as justification for seeing and being seen–i.e. the same old straight white male gaze strum und drang–or metonymy for conveying ‘insecurities, sadness, joy and the instinctural desire to live and love’ is inexcusably unrefined and lazy in its base essentialization.

To put it another way. Recall Marcus Auerilus: of each particular thing ask: what is it in itself, what is its nature? 

Better yet, ask: why is she nude?

Note:

I am loathe to remove anything that might be even loosely deemed attributive.

Thus, in the interest of full disclosure this image was posted with a quote from Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood.

I removed the quote.

I’m not anti-Murakami. In fact, I’ve read roughly half his fiction.

Norwegian Wood is the work I liked least. 

I wasn’t really able to put a finger on what exactly I so actively disliked it. But a brilliant feminist acquaintance took umbrage to my wholesale recommendation of Murakami. She suggested that he always wrote his female characters with one hand so that he could masturbate to them with the other.

It only took two me two more books to realize the astuteness of her observation. In hindsight, it’s exactly the reason Norwegian Wood left such a bad taste in my mouth.

For all I know, it was Sylvia who suggested the inclusion of the quote. In which case, apologies are in order. But the inclusion is just a little too telling given the less than subtle reality of how the work reads.

It’s fine if it’s all just masturbatory fodder. Really, I am okay with that. What I am not okay with is using the trappings of feminist discourse as a get out of jail free card.

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