Blake FitchJulia on radiator from Expectations of Adolescence series (2005)

There are at least three other bodies of work I can think of that cover similar ground to Expectations of Adolescence.

Conceptually, Sally Mann’s At Twelve–with its 8×10 portraits of several dozen twelve year-old girls–is the clearest antecedent.

There’s also Anna Grzelweska’s less polished (but no less fantastic for that it) Julia Wannabe series–where a mother documents her daughter’s transition from a girl into a young woman.

And don’t forget Siân Davey’s series focused on her daughter Martha.

The two young women in Expectations of Adolescence are the younger sister and cousin of the photographer.

Here I want nothing more than to dive into an examination of the questions as to where excessive stylization begins and where is crosses over into a kind of  over hyper-realism–however, benevolent Satan must be smiling down on you tonight because you are saved due to more pressing matters.

See: I was moderately squicked out by this–at least initially. I mistook Blake for a masculine first name–it’s feminine here.

(And it’s not only me–several people I’ve showed this to had the same reaction.)

Interestingly, not an hour before I found discovered this huge piece of information I had carelessly missed–I had been screaming about that change.org petition demanding the NYC The Metropolitan Museum of Art remove Balthus’ Thérèse Dreaming from their collection.

I wasn’t going to read the petition but I went and did it just now and I was wrong to give it the benefit of the doubt–it’s 100% grab the pearls reactionary concern fapping.

And I just so happen to have a previous version of of this post with my approximation of what the gist of the petition: in the wake of the #MeToo movement, the petitioners view this work due
to it’s ‘voyeuristic’ nature as well as it’s ‘sexualization of young
women’
.

I am going to just skip over the part about taking a gallery to task for exploiting voyuerism–it’s a bit like saying: that new pope sure is great except for that whole Roman Catholic thing.

I’m curious how many of the folks signing on for this petition have actually engaged with the work in good faith?

I mean–yes: Balthus was almost certainly an hebephile. I’m with Dan Savage on this one: it is absolutely possible for someone to have a fetish that they cannot morally sate. And there are such things as gold star examples of those folks who–due to the inability of the other party in their desire to consent to sexual contact: they abstain.

So the question is: if Balthus did have a thing for adolescent girls but never acted on it–in part because through art he found a means of transferring his fantasies–are his works more or less socially acceptable due to their being less morally bankrupt?

Are we–through the act of viewing–also rendered guilty by osmotic association?

Pretty much that’s the point.

Lastly, the notion that the work glamorizes the sexualization of young girls is maybe even more offensive. The semiotics of the composition from her expression to her pose to the behavior of the cat all communicate an inaccessibility. Or to put it another way: it takes some work to look at that picture and think I want her even though she very clearly does not want me? And that makes you a creep.  (There’s this whole thing akin to that whole thing about whether the angle of the dangle in Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring’s bauble indicates whether she’s looking towards the viewer or away from them.)

I mean full disclosure: it’s one of one of my all-time favorite paintings. So–of course I’m going to defend it; but am I wrong, too? It’s something I’m mulling.

This post brought to you but the letters T, H & C.

Géraldine Layjuillet from Un mince vernis de réalité series (2006)

A photography teacher introducing Lay to a room of undergrads might talk about the foreign in the familiar or refer to an unassuming eye. Perhaps, accompanied by explication relating the work’s influence to anyone from Stephen Shore to Jeff Wall to Paul Graham.

It’s not that I don’t think these points are extraneous–hardly; it’s that I think instructors need to vary their approach given the materials.

All too frequently, I think we reduce informed analyses to the presumptions of tradition. Painting is compared to painting; photography is compared to painting and cinema. It’s all really more interpenetrative than that.

We’d be better to look at modern art as a confluence of modern media, modes and methodologies–much in the fashion that the medieval cathedral formed the nexus between architecture, sculpture (broadly: masonry, woodwork, etc.), painting and even fiber based arts (liturgical robes, tapestries, etc.).

The best approach to Lay is, in fact, not visual–or only tangentially so; it’s textual.

Looking at the work is enough to justify this premonition, at least as far as in my own case. However, one needs look no further than the statement accompanying Un mince vernis de réalité to solidify this perspective–I understand not one lick of French but I’m guessing from context and Google Translate that it’s a section from Nabokov’s short story Transparent Things.

I’ve tried on at least half a dozen occasions to dive deep into Nabokov. He strikes me as a peculiarly brilliant mind more interested in conveying the form of his ideas than presenting them in a simple straightforward manner. His text is unnecessarily overwrought, at times serpentine and lacks the sort of glittering, glib irreverence of say Perec.

But the jist of the quote is a notion that’s not unfamiliar to me–Martin Buber makes it the singular focus of the second most influential book I’ve ever encountered: I and Thou.

The crux of the book is that there are two flavors of relationships between the individual and the world which surrounds them. There is the world of objects: subways, coffee cups, paper clips and xerox machines. We even see other people as perhaps not objects but ‘other’ in a similar fashion to objects we perceive in the world around us. Buber terms this relationship of our perception of objects in the world as ‘other’: I-It.

There is a second form of relationship. It is far rarer. Imagine: that you are standing on a bluff overlooking the ocean. A dear friend is facing you with their back to the ocean telling you a story–perhaps something to do with their misadventures traveling to Machu Picchu. Behind them the color in the sky shifts and you notice this devastatingly beautiful purple you’ve ever seen. You are utterly speechless at the site. You want to show your friend. But you know as soon as you spake of it, the spell of the wonderment will be broken. All you can do is point and hope that your friend will turn and see what it is you’ve seen in the same way. (And let me tell you, if you find that person who all you need to do is point: hold them close, not having to explain to someone why something is special is one of the greatest gifts you can share with another person.)

Buber terms this wordless wonderment, this transcendent moment of perfect, unmediated awareness: an I-Thou relationship.

Trying to explain it like this: a little like trying to explain to someone who hasn’t ever tasted coffee what coffee tastes like. It’s not something you can accomplish with words. Instead, you boil water, grind the beans and steep a cup for them saying this is warm and good, try it. If you don’t get it, spilling all the ink in the world won’t bridge the gap that you’ll cross once you know that to which you are being pointed.

The other curious thing though is that Buber maintains that there exists within every I-It experience the spark of moment of I-You relationship. I think most good image making centers on trying to document that spark.

What distinguishes Lay is that she’s not interested in the spark, she’s interested in the I-You moment. In effect, her camera is the same as the finger you are pointing so that your friend will see the purple tinged clouds hovering above and reflected in the ocean below.

It’s an unusual approach and while I don’t think it always works out for her, it works enough for one to see what she’s about. I’ll always respect work that attempts the risks failure in pursuit of an ‘impossible’ end. But the work that truly gets me fired up is the work that succeeds in accomplishing what we’ve heretofore accepted as impossible.

Lina Scheyniusmariacarla (2008)

Remember how from the point you started to learn long division onward, your teachers were always admonishing you to show your work!?

Up to that point the right answer has been more than enough but increasingly how you arrived at the answer becomes just as if not more important.

Lina Scheynius–more than any other photographer I can think of–shows her work.

To illustrate what I mean let me draw your attention to this heart-warming story about Peyton Thomas and what happened when her mother took her to skateboard at a local skate park.

The eye which lights on the figures and compositions that Scheynius chooses demonstrates a curiosity–nervous and often fumbling but completely engaged. When she captures an image, Scheynius is surprisingly like the girl in this story–she wants to skate but the circumstances surrounding it and her lack of confidence are all obstacles.

As such her work often shows a almost careless whimsy with regards to composition. For example: the above image doesn’t logically break down into any sort of sensible geometric proof. It’s literally about the diagonal (top right to bottom left angle of the light, interplay between the pattern/color of the dress against the carpet. Like most of her work–the colors are muted and muddy in an effort to render light the central focus.

Further, to me it feels as if the instinct of the image maker is to present Mariacarla in context. Due to this instinct, the curtain fringe and whatever the dark object pushes in along the top, slightly right of center frame edge.

In the end, it’s these two likely circumstantial elements that unify the image. And here is where the eye that edits the resulting images is comparable to Ryan Carney in the story about the little girl and her skateboard. Lina as editor acknowledges the wonderment but applies a critical eye. The accidental embellishments serve as a means of rendering the wonder impetus the sparked the shutter triggering legible to a viewer.

There are scads of photographers whose work functions as a primer in how to read images. But Scheynius, in the way she reflexive makes photos inextricably tied up in her process, is trying to show us how to better see wonder in the world around us.

Loreal PrystajUntitled from Byrdcliffe series (2014)

There’s a fucking shit ton of image makers producing work with a sort of super high contrast, post-urban decay nightmarish feel.

Unfortunately, as appealing as any one of those facets are in and of themselves, taken together they almost always signify shitty work attempting to glorify style over content.

Prystaj appears to have discovered a means of making what should be an archetypal aesthetic and fuses it with a rigorously formal approach to composition.

Consider the above: the position of the subject is utterly perfect–curves balanced against the rectilinearity of the room and an awareness of the weight and ghost-like forms of shadow and light.

Normally, I’d be inclined to dock points for the 2-3 degree up tilt of the camera. A lesser image maker would’ve down this as a new jerk way of goosing the viewer into attributing a greater dynamic fluidity to the upward stretch/downward pull of the model. However, note how the tilt actually pulls additional angular symmetry between the light pouring into the room via the doorway and windows, the angle of the open door and most importantly the way the spill bouncing off the curtains and rising up towards the unseen ceiling echoes the angle of the falling direct light.

Timur SuponovUntitled (2013)

As someone who has–in fairness–done more than my fair share of drugs, I’m fascinated by synesthesia.

As someone who–and this is true–shops for clothing by going shelf to rack to shelf feeling the material between my thumb and forefinger and only evaluating the style, cut and color after finding something that feels nice against my skin, I think photography has crazy untapped potential to convey a synesthetic sense of texture.

I can’t say this is a good image. It does have a nice tonal range and I appreciate that the image maker has included her entire body without chopping off limbs. The angle of the headboard(?) and foot of the cushions is distracting and although it’s supposed to be counterbalanced by the suffused lights coming through the diaphanous curtains, that strategy is a failure.

But dat texture, tho. The warn nearly threadbare cushions, the knit skirt–look at the way it stretches against her outer left thigh and even the curtains. In fact, if this were film and printed on nice rag based stock, her skin would take on a sense of taut sheen that it only hints at here.

4201Title unknown (2015)

Believe it or not, I do make an effort not to repeat the same things over and over but although I’ve said it before, I feel it bears repetition in this case: whoever is behind maanavi is righteously kicking ass and taking names.

I am at the stage of crawling on my knees while genuflecting as far as my level of impressed-ness goes.

I’ve reached out to the person(s) posting to the cite in an effort to glean a better understand of where this work originates. I’ll be sure to update this post if I hear anything.

Until then you should definitely check it out. It’s a truly rare occasion where I am this impressed by work where I know fuck all about the artist behind it.

EDIT: I heard back in regards to my inquiry. The manaavi blog is the work of Piotr Debinski (unless otherwise visibly sourced). He’s on Flickr and his photostream represents a mix of incisive studio work (as above) and a sort of hybrid street photography as portraiture/architectural meditation. Of the studio work he states it is representative of his “fascination with human elation.”

Alina Senchuk (goodbyestockholm)

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La petit mort  2011

It is difficult to speak the truth, for although there is only one truth, it is alive and therefore has a live and changing face.

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Franz Kafka

Untitled shot on a Mamiya 645 by Heidi Systo

Every now and again I crush hard on internet famous photographers. For example: Kimmie Eliot Fung, Traci Matlock (aka Rose) & Ashley MacLean (aka Olive) and Lynn Kastanovics.

With Ms. Fung’s shift to more textile oriented work and Traci and Ashley’s ‘breakup’ the last three years have remained crush-less. (Even if Ms. Kastanovics never chooses to exhibit her work again, she will always hold a place in my heart not unlike the one occupied by Francesca Woodman.)

But the drought ended when Muss4You posted this photo created by Pratt undergrad Heidi Systo.

Ms. Systo describes herself on her website as:

[A]n artist living in Brooklyn who uses medium format photography to explore issues of identity and voyeurism in the era of social media.

She is who she appears to be.

As far as artist statements go the above hits all the right notes: simple, unadorned and streamlines.

So I was surprised to find another expanded statement on her Flickr profile:

Since the era of social media, photography is more accessible than ever. From the perspective of teenage girls it is a tool used to gain attention through provocative imagery posted on sites like Facebook, Flickr, ad [sic] Tumblr. My work explores the relationships between photographer, photograph, and ultimately how it is consumed at various levels in the realm of social media. I portray these attention seeking girls at different levels of development, from passive and curious, to sad and aggressive. As an artist, I am shifting the power away from the viewer and on to the subject. No longer an object to be either discarded or idolized, she now becomes a window into the unsettling viewer’s gaze.

This again towers over most undergrad artist statements—which suffer from the default ego-tripping blather setting; but a young artist whose work is so precocious, edgy, technically savvy and stands on its own, doesn’t need to be explanations.

Unless the statement is meant to reveal the artist is fully aware of what she is doing—and given the swaggering confidence of the photographic voice, doing so seems unnecessary/redundant. (Then I am admittedly kinda anti-artist statement…)

Regardless, I cannot recommend her work highly enough. Definitely check her out. Just don’t tell her I sent you. The lesser known fourth law of thermodynamics holds that: beautiful women render [me] incapable of managing fuck all more than stuttered, incoherent ramblings.

I’d rather not come off like a total heel to someone whose work I admire so much.