Roxann Arwen Mills – Self-portrait with blue neon in bathroom from Influences of Blue series (1998-2004)

EDIT: Apologies. I completely fucked this one up. The above images have
been viciously de-saturated by some internet asshat. You can see the
full color originals here. (Thanks as always to @sporeprint​ for the eagle eyed correction.)

One of the things I was told very early on post-buying a 35mm SLR and focusing on shooting B&W stock was that to do B&W right/well I needed to invest in a bunch of color filters.

A yellow filter will famously make blue skies really pop. (If you understand the inter-relationship between the RGB (additive) and CMYK (subtractive) color models, then what filters do what can be easily decoded. If you’re like me and understand the theory inside and out but have a bit more trouble when it comes to practical application: here’s an indisipensible intro.

I knew all this but still one of the only things that’s every truly surprised me as far as how I thought something would would appear photographed and how it actually appeared on the film was a snapshot I took in The Met of Ellsworth Kelly’s Spectrum V. (Rendered in B&W, the panels are indistinguishable from one another.)

My suspicion is that this is one of the things Mills is up to with these images–interrogating the subtle ways that the color subtly shifts the way that a B&W emulsions registers light.

@thewillowraeBathsheba (2016)

Either you already know who Willow is–in which case your response is most likely: holy fucking shit, she’s THE BEST. If you don’t, here’s a little by way of introduction:

Willow is a twenty-something model and  image maker She has a super conservative Xtian family–from whom she is estraged (as I seem to recall). She also suffers from a chronic illness.

I first encountered her work via @nymphoninjas Submission Sundays. But she also her own submission site The Coffee Club.

Her work was always both edgy and raw–two traits I feel are indispensable to any ‘good’ creative work. Willow’s personal work has been evolving rapidly. I featured one of her images almost a year ago; and the degree to which her work has sharpened in such a short period of time is goddamn jaw dropping.

Willow included a statement of sorts with these images. I’m including it here as she originally posted it:

First set in a series focused on
rereading stories of women from the Bible and finding the distortion and
misogyny in the way the Protestant church portrayed these women.

And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that
David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king’s
house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman
was very beautiful to look upon.And David sent and enquired after the
woman. And one said, Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the
wife of Uriah the Hittite?And David sent messengers, and took her; and
she came in unto him, and he lay with her; for she was purified from her
uncleanness: and she returned unto her house. 2 Samuel 11:2-4

When I was in school, I remember our studies through 2
Samuel in my Old Testament Survey class. I remember Bathsheba being
painted as a seductress and a whore. In reality, she was just a woman
taking a bath being pressured into having sex with the king. Could she
really say no? The rest of the story was that Bathsheba became pregnant.
Then David sent Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, to the front lines of
battle where Joab was instructed to have his soldiers in the front step
back to ensure Uriah was killed. The king then married Bathsheba and her
child died after she gave birth. The whole experience must have been
traumatizing to Bathsheba, but Biblical teachers paint her as a slut. No
person should shamed for bathing or wearing short skirts.  No one
should be made to feel unclean or guilty for being seen nude or enjoying
being naked. This has been your Anti-Christian Bible sermon for the
day.

Like Willow, I attended an Xtian high school where one out of seven periods each day was dedicated to an academic study of The Bible.

I think one of the things you’ll miss unless you share a similar upbringing is the degree to which everything objectionable to the story of Bathsheba is implicit.

I mean: Xtian schools have either a very rigid dress code if not a uniform. My school only transitioned to a uniform after I graduated. While I was a student: boys had to wear dress slacks three days a week and jeans twice a week; girls had to wear skirts/dresses three days a week, could wear pants twice a week and jeans twice a month (on Wednesdays).

Attendance was taken each morning and instead of ‘here’, ‘present’ or the obligatory joker who felt responding ‘gift’ was somehow clever, we responded: skirt or pants when our name was called.

And there were ultra-specific rules on how short a skirt was allowed to be. The usual rule was the hem of the skirt had to be longer than the tip of your longest finger with your palms pressed flat against your thighs.

The generous teachers would let you do this wile standing–which gives you about an extra inch shorter. Most of the teachers would make you kneel. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen a teacher call a young woman in front of a class to make her–in front of everyone–kneel with her hands pressed against her sides to reveal that her skirt was not long enough.

You get berated for pride, for vanity. I’ve seen young women have to apologize to the entire class for the visible skin of their legs.

By the time you get to the story of Bathsheba–there’s no need to explicit slut shame. As a young woman who has survived through puberty, you know that the way men look at you shifts. You adjust–the way you see yourself becomes bifurcated, you’re constantly not only aware of being, you’re aware of how you are seen.

You read think pieces about how young women in public schools are sent home because their legs, thighs or bra straps are going to distract boys from paying attention. It’s rape culture through and through.

But what you don’t understand is that it’s even worse at an Xtian school. By the time you hear the story of Bathsheba, you know that decisions regard your own body have ramifications beyond yourself. And so you hear how David say her bathing on the roof and there’s no need to mention that she shouldn’t have been bathing where she might have been seen–that’s already thoroughly ingrained.

I mean David was the king. He lived in a castle. He could’ve gone walking anywhere. But he went walking on the roof. And when he saw a woman bathing–he was so in lust for her that he kept staring (you know despite clearly not having her consent to watch her or even if she didn’t mind being seen, he certainly didn’t have her consent to respond to her nakedness in the way he did.

But what Willow doesn’t mention is that this is treated as David’s great sin, his downfall. It’s sad, because he’s tempted and succumbs to temptation. But the sadness hinges on how he let temptation encroach on his relationship with some magic man in the sky–who you’ll note is just the sort of asshole who will make a bet with Satan that his number one fan won’t turn on him if God lets the devil take away all the good things in his life. (See: the story of Job.)

There’s this disconnect that David had any sort of agency in his actions. It’s all like if he hadn’t been tempted, it wouldn’t have happened. But God let him be tempted… so in order to not view God as an asshole, you have to slut-shame.

Anyway, I have more to say on this topic but I’d rather move on to the images themselves. Bathrooms can be notoriously difficult to make images in. The lighting tends to suck. There’s usually too much white space. So, it bears mentioning that Willow has done a great job with this. The light is compelling, the colors liven things up without distracting too much from the subject.

I have mixed feelings on the camera angle. Yes, the sort of God’s eye view is conceptually resonate; however, the angle of the corners of the niche the tub is installed into with a sort of 3 point perspective look is a little too forceful. (If it’s not clear what I mean compare the visuals in a Sam Raimi or Robert Rodriguez film–or Bayhem, for that matter–and compare it with the visuals in Hitchcock or Kubrick’s work. Although I think it is actually worth noting that the composition in Willow’s images being more like Raimi or Rodriguez and the way in which those creators are more closely tied to genre and visual conventions lifted from comic books…)

I also think the images in their present configuration and presentation don’t entirely work. This relates to the story of Bathsheba but were clearly viewing a character who went to an Xtian school thinking back and sort of empathize with the way Xtianity throws women under the bus.

My first and strongest response to the image was that thought that it was one of those new fangled graphic novels where people who can’t draw, make images instead of drawing panels. That led to the thought of how much I’d like to see Willow have the resources to be able to stage her vision of David watching Bathsheba on the roof at night (’cause that shit would be in-fucking-credible) and how the way she’s framing this project has this sort of implied narrative within a narrative.

Even if that’s not what she’s planning to do with it, I have to say that she’s doing some crazy exceptional and fearless things with self-portraiture that are both intriguing and important.

Source unknown – Title Unknown (19XX)

This is not a good photograph. Good or not, it is goddamn fascinating.

The color is positively garish–render skin tones livid with blue green bruising. The two tone yellow of the tub and wall paper certainly doesn’t help matters.

But note how the reflection of the flash off the mirror–while absolutely contributing to the fucked up color balance–is rather lovely when you only consider the reflection.

And I do love the way the cunnilingus giver is supporting the receiver’s hips with her hands, the soapy wetness of the skin and the despite the unflattering angle, how the receiver’s reflection appears so unfeigned in its blissed outness.

Chip WillisNathalia Rhodes (2015)

As someone fluent in only one language (English); and who therefore is in the habit of reading left to right, this image caters to my expectations.

I wish I had the time to super impose angled rule of thirds indicator markings similar to what I did with this photograph by Igor Mukin. It would be immediately clear that what I’m guessing is an out-of-focus towel rack in the lower left foreground, the inside edge of the tub and the mildewy grout-line between the tub and the wall separate the image into thirds diagonally.

As a westerner who’s first language is English, I read left-to-right. thus I scan this image starting from the top left. The repetition of the diagonal draws my eye down and right, along the outside edge of the tub.

What’s interesting here is that unlike the Mukhin image, the diagonal of the top of the diagonals of the top and bottom of the mirror and the front and back of the toilet lid don’t align with thirds–but they do represent the most dense range of contrast with in the image.

In the absence of the second set of guiding third indicators, The angle of Rhodes legs functions as the compositional element that redirects the eye from right to left. (Notice: that the angle of her legs forms the base of an acute triangle of which the reflection of her face is the vertex.)

I’m not ready to attribute to this a status of some next level visual shit. It is inspired though. The pose and boots all scream tired porn tropes. However, the effort to include the face–anytime you shoot with mirrors you’re introducing seven different flavors of hell to the process–subverts the seeming unmitigated sexualization of the body as object. (In other words, even though Rhodes is effectively chopped in two by the frame edge, her holistic totality is at least illustrated.

The more I look at this the less I see it as gratuitously graphic. There are details that command attention: the black bobby pins against the white porcelain toilet lid, the strategic placement of the the rear hem of her dress and her gaze focused on the photographer instead of the camera are all inspired touches.

This is the first of Willis’ images I’ve seen where I’m convinced that my suspicion he uses porn tropes in a critical instead of incidental fashion is on the right track. And the fact the above is maybe a little heavy handed in its efforts to conflate fashion editorial work with pornography; however, the criticism is too stunningly on-point/fiendishly executed for me to even thing of docking points.

Rick PostonTullee (2012)

This image is such a mixed bag; but it’s a mixed bag  in a way that reflects a broad swath of conflicting feels I have w/r/t Poston’s work in general

As a strategy for preserving anonymity without dismemberment by frame edge, this pose is rather clever. Trouble is: Tullee is an established nude model; therefore anonymity wasn’t the concern.

Even it if had been, there’s the unsettling way this essentializies the female body. (That Poston is ostensibly standing over the scene holding the camera only exacerbates the matter).

Then there’s the random canting. I mean: it’s clear the aim was to align the junction of the two tile walls with the top-left corner. Interesting; but it’ll never happen handheld.

In turn, this misalignment skews the registration between the upper frame edge and the first horizontal tile seam. (Now, I understand the compositional logic here. But, I am not sure reiterating the framing so aggressively is the wisest choice when with a slight elevation of the camera, the frame would be opened to the vertical tile seams thus emphasizing one point perspective and drawing the eye downward at the same time as reiterating the actuality of the location.)

Yet, it’s not all bad. Sloppy composition notwithstanding the flubs do at least allow for a happy accident: the two little dribbled puddles where the soapy water has overflowed the tub remain visible.

Yes, it’s a thoroughly silly detail but it adds immeasurably to the truth of the image for me.

Now, if he just could’ve only bothered to slide that little sliver of that bath mat back two centimeters so it was out of the lower right third of the frame…

390. by Nicolas Sisto

The first thing I see, the thing that reaches out and smacks the shit out of me is the light. Fucking A.

Next and simultaneously, I notice the color of the tile and the way the light diffuses on her skin, in her hair—the way it suffuse the blue tiles and tub.

This is the sort of light photographers kill for, a distinct cousin to the magical cinematography in Malick films.

Further it’s analog, a real photograph—any detail in the highlight with such bright white hot spots would be DOA in digital. And the photographer is clearly trying to emulate the tenebrist contrast range and vivid colors of Polaroid’s late 90’s palate.

Also, in the images favor is its inclusion of two quintessential photographic tropes: nudity and miraculous light.

Still, even though I want to like this, I can’t; the light alone isn’t enough. There are two glaring flaws:

First, who sits this way in an empty bathtub? I mean honestly. It’s overly self-conscious and awkward. Look at how gorgeous I am just plopped down here in this pool of perfect light… ladiladidah.

Interestingly, there’s an outtake from this same sequence. In it some of the light’s grandeur gets lost, the pose is at least less self-conscious and therefore less contrived.

Yet, in both case the composition is fucked. You see it a lot—envisioning a strictly balanced and symmetrical shot within the frame and shooting hand held. That saying close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades goes triple for symmetrical images. Either keep the hand held camera and accentuate the asymmetry or use a motherfucking tripod.

I am posting this photo along with the link to its sibling not to bash either so much as point out that somewhere between them is an image I wanted to see in both but didn’t. The hint of what might have been but never was is pretty incredible to me.