Marat Safin – Казань (2018)
Safin should be mentioned alongside Ren Hang and Akif Hakan Celebi–each possess a visual style you can spot across a crowded, a similar tendency toward profusion of content as well as quantity as a form of quality (or, if you prefer a surfeit of style as substance).
He’s not half as consistent as the other two, however. (Honestly, I don’t have the first clue what possesses him to release some of the thoroughly half-baked images he makes.)
But when he’s on, his work is innovative and sometimes even thrilling.
I am super into this picture. Partly it’s the diffuse right to left lighting, partly, it’s that her pose is such that she appears to be playing it coy, carefully removing her underwear in a seductive fashion. Except: the framing excludes information as to whether or not she is unaware of the camera and therefore the viewer. The way she’s rolled the garment down her hips onto her thighs suggests she’s aware of the voyeuristic element. Yet, the erotic impetus of the image relates to her underwear–while she remains nude but hardly immodestly exposed; a tension which at least allows for the possibility that this is not some sort of orchestrated scene and is a privately sensual moment. (That possibility doesn’t stand up to any sort of close scrutiny even if it is an interesting consideration.)
I also like this because it’s a photo I wish had been of me. I was thinking about trying to tease out why from what I’ve already said–if you want to dig a bit it has to do with the dichotomy between bearing witness and voyeurism as well as the disjunction between sensuality and sexuality.
But honestly, that was all before a recent image of Safin’s started raising some hackles over on Flickr. (Trigger warning: graphic depictions of what I can only presume relates to an eating disorder.)
The image is captioned СПб, the Cyrillic letters corresponding to the Latin S, P and B–or Saint Petersburg. (Over the last several years, Safin has moved away from titling his images and instead merely mentioned where they are taken; the image above was made in Kazan, for example.)
It features a young woman who appears to be dangerously underweight–you can clear see her ribs, spine and shoulder bones. She appears to have stopped crawling along the forest floor long enough to rest with her forehead on the ground, perhaps in an effort to catch her breath.
It’s a striking tableau.
Predictably: the comments range from concern for the model, damning the image maker, defending the image maker under the auspices of artistic expression, comments on how someone else’s body is not an appropriate thing for anyone else to comment on and now things have degenerated to the point where commenters are decrying the overreach of politically correct pomposity. (”Politically correct” being code employed by folks who expect other people to be polite and decent to them but quickly start whinging when someone’s notion of what constitutes polite and decent differs even marginally from their own definition.)
I’m not entirely sure I believe there is any way the image is ethical. However, ethical or not it is strangely effective. The location (Saint Petersburg) and what it depicts (someone chosen because they appear convincingly malnourished) immediately made me think of the Siege of Leningrad–starvation was widespread and some resorted to cannibalism.
The image was made almost ¾ of a century after the siege ended. And unlike most nude in nature work–where the lack of clothing is meant to convey a sense of the work being out of time–this feels very modern to me, somehow.
As if for all the ways the world has ‘changed’ the metrics by which we eat or go hungry have less to do with warfare and more to do with the individual and society. There is still–of course–extremes between abundance and scarcity but scarcity in the face of abundance is still all to rife.
Lastly, I think it’s interesting that roughly a quarter of people think Safin is a woman. I’m fairly certain that isn’t the case. (Although it would be interesting if it were.)