Pascal RenouxLizzie Saint Septembre (2007)

Orson Welles proclaimed “[t]he enemy of art is the absence of limitations.”

At first blush, it seems counter-intuitive. Exhibit A: centuries of extravagant excess in Western Art.

However, browsing Renoux’s work, I can’t help but notice how it does so much with so little.

I mean: if you’re at all familiar with the Tumblr fine art nude model community, you know there is no dearth of models huddling close to windows in tiny, dim and cramped apartments.

And the vast majority of those images play like a checklist of popular conventions: Dutch Golden Age light, beautiful bodies, oblique shadows. It tends to read more as look at this monument I erected to my own creative effort.

All the same tropes are active in Renoux’s work but their effect is much different. Whether or not you see the window in the frame or merely its illumination seems less a question dictated by the layout of the room and more organically in conversation with other compositional elements in the image. It’s the same with: eye contact vs an averted gaze or color vs B&W. Every element fits together with a breathless exactitude.

Back when I was a film student my only real rival–prior to running afoul of the administration–was this bat shit crazy kid named Igor. He was like the inverse of me. I became a film student because I wanted to make movies whereas he had always loved movies but his only training was in fine art photography.

I was working on a half dozen different projects that semester and had just returned from the lab with a batch of transfers. Igor had asked me to pick his footage up too while I was in Manhattan.

We met in the editing lab and we watched both his footage and my footage. He was intensely critical of the stuff I’d shot–going so far as to say that he could have produced better images with $10 dollars, no crew and tripping on mescaline.

One of my reels featured footage of waves rolling in on the shore. He was mesmerized by it. Made my play it back a half dozen times. He said: That’s good. Because no matter how hard someone tried, they could never–even with infinite resources–produce remotely similar images.

I wanted to strange him them. Truthfully, I still kind of want to strangle him now. But with the benefit of more than a decade to stew, I see his point more clearly.

To be Capital-A Art, work must be more than reverence for a nude body the raison d’etre must transcend monuments to individual creative effort. It’s something that many of Renoux’s images evidence in spades.

Yes, that’s really uselessly abstract. But I think I can actually illustrate what I mean (for once).

This image by Eric Englehardt was made with a 4×5 large format camera. It’s lovely. I dig the scale (you can see the subject head to toe in the frame) and there’s context (ostensibly a dumpster in what may be a junkyard or perhaps somewhat arid locale–in other words there’s an element of public vs private at play).

Here’s another from the same series. It’s medium format. You don’t have a wide enough angle of view to determine context. Like I know it’s a dumpster and I still think it looks like an empty freight train car. The eye contact with the camera, the splash of red nail polish, the windswept hair–all of it works together to make create something that is more than the sum of its parts.

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