Source unknown – Title unknown (188X)
One thing you learn very quickly studying visual art in academia is the liability that is sentimentality.
The two exceptions I can think of are Nan Goldin–who, while her work is unsentimental, the raison d’etre for her work is fundamentally sentimental; and Sally Mann, whose work frequently borders on inexcusable sentimentality but always manages to maintain a rigorously formal foundation w/r/t to conceptual complexity and masterful execution.
I’m not arguing that the above image is sentimental. It is, however, very earnest and I think all too often that disqualifies certain work from being considered as art.
There are certainly compositional flaws that detract from this. The entire frame is left heavy. As all the elements either shift the eye left or are gathered at the left half of the frame. The “24.” along the right frame edge is placed as if to counter-act some of that off kilterness–but it hardly makes up for it.
Additionally, the lower frame edge cutting at the knee is just inelegant and jarring.
Yet, there is a lot to praise here. The skin tone is lovely–the subtle gradation between the curve of his body and the backdrop, the way her skin is so much lighter than his.
The backdrop borders on ridiculous; however, with the careful drape of the rug and the position of the bodies with the aforementioned gradation, it all suggests a familiarity with classical modes of visual representation.
I also adore the way her arm is bent back and she’s looking directly into the camera. There’s something calculated about it–part defiance, part fascination. Also, the dirty soles of her feet splayed in the air is inspired.
It feels to me like the photographer wanted to make images of people fucking but didn’t want it to read as frivolous. Thus, there’s an attention to detail that although it doesn’t entirely work, it adds a ring of truth to the scene.
I have no idea about the origins of this image. But there does appear to be a scratch on it–bifurcating it more or less horizontally at the center as well as a dogeared corner. It may not be accurate but it’s possible to imagine someone keeping this photo secreted away in a coat pocket.