Paul von Borax – Selections from SOOMBRE (2015)

Ninety percent of Borax’s work represents–to me–all the tendencies in contemporary image making that I consider inartful, tactless and conceptually bankrupt.

It’s not that SOOMBRE transcends those flaws–quite the opposite: it doubles down on them: presenting style as substance.

Typically, such a gamble doesn’t pay dividends. Here it does in at least some measure.

It’s honestly the aesthetic that gets me: the gummed edges indicating peel apart film, the soft focus, the replication of the sort of flat tableau that informed so much of Victorian photography–the way the artifice of constructing a set actually manages to increase the authenticity of the aesthetic. (In fact, I’m reasonably certain that the sets used in SOOMBRE were almost certainly predicated on a production design concept similar to Mark Romanek’s brilliant work on // | /’s Closer music video.

The other thing that works well is the implicit provocation of the staging. In the top image, the poses would be indecent were it not for the way the shadows play over the scene; the women maintaining eye contact with the camera makes a degree of voyeurism explicit–their expressions suggest that both are aware of being watched and aren’t bothered by the fact but also aren’t especially interested in it.

The bottom image toys with the same ideas but in a manner that is arguably more perverse. To me this photo hinges on two things: the position of the rear woman’s hands–less her right hand than her left; the latter being exactly on the line between contrivedly staged and unsimulated. The awareness of that boundary and the willingness to press up against it, in addition to the way the one woman seems aware of the camera while the other does not and the askew composition, gives a very real feeling that the scene is less presented for a camera’s aperture than a glimpse through some sort of illicit peephole.

Also, it would be disingenuous of me not to mention that fact that while I am typically into anything that fucks with the notion of the sacred vs. the profane, the use of crucifixes in this project is some milquetoast, weak tea bullshit. I’d kill to see what someone like Plume Haters Tannenbaum would do with this location. Like although there are definitely a few intriguing things about Borax’s work on this project, I don’t feel it reads as even a tenth as transgressive as it seems the creator would hope. Whereas, Tannenbaum would’ve made you feel almost deliciously dirty for looking at the images with such unrestrained wonderment.

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