Hiroko Shiina AKA C7Conium maculatum (2015)

I could opt to digress about the gorgeously filigreed line work (which to my eye is on par with Albrecht Dürer); or, I could rant about Shiva‘s multiple arms.

And speaking of multiple arms–it’s wonderful and rich with meaning the way the hands embracing her for a second appear as if they are hers but at least two of them belong to the person holding onto her (in a mix of comforting or perhaps more accurately sharing of sorrow) but also at the same time there’s a unsettling fondling feel to things. (The two hands on her body are clearly signaled as masculine.)

But what transfixes me, I’m talking hypnotically mesmerizes me is the way she’s catching her heart with her dress–her heart appearing as if it’s exploded out of her chest in a bursting bloom of Baby’s Breath, looking less like an organ and more than a little like a plant trimming left soaking in water long enough to begin to form root structures.

The way she’s catching the heart reminds me of that scene early in Twain’s Huck Finn where Huck dresses as a girl to attempt to gain information from a local farmer, his disguises is quickly seen through thanks to the gender essentialist tests of Mrs. Judith Loftus. (In particularly, the woman asks Huck to thread a needle–he fails; hit a rat with a lump of lead–he succeeds; and, to catch something tossed toward his lap–he slams his legs together to protect his testicles, whereas a young lady would spread her legs so that the surface of her dress would act as a trampoline to aide in catching the object.)

But really I’m kind of just so completely in awe of this because everything about it speaks to me on so many freaking levels–especially as a non-binary trans girl who (personally) has no interest in medically transitioning. I suspose that means I’m officially out to you, dear followers…

The resonance is so strong, in fact, that I am seriously thinking about getting this as a tattoo on my left tricep…

Valerie ChiangAll info is in the image (2017)

This is really effing fabulous, y’all.

It’s a solid image. There’s a sense of person and place, the pose is dynamic and it’s an image that would lose whatever It-thing renders it so damn visually compelling were it B&W instead of vibrantly full color.

Compositionally, the original image had some issues. Kacy is presented slightly left of center. From the standpoint of the way the eye scans this isn’t ideal. Were this digital, you could flip the image so that the top of the juke box/deli-display counter lines the eye up to scan to Kacy’s face and then her gaze back at the camera and through the camera the photographer/audience.

But this is an actual snapshot. So it is what it is.

Cutting a strip from the right and then appending it to the left is a solution that is elegant in its simplicity and stunningly effective. It moves Kacy to the center of the image, yet breaks up the composition in a way that makes the centering non-obtuse and perhaps even a bit enigmatic.

Then there’s the physical tactility of the way it’s presented. The composition book page and tape with a caption added; a caption that serves the same function as most titles for fine art photographs–it tells you what you’re already looking at.

(Let me digress momentarily here to say that after trolls, the most common asks I get are people pissed off when a title controverts their interpretation of an image. On one level I understand the frustration; on another–I think although it’s more challenging a title can actually contribute additional poetic resonance to an image. I always refer people pissed off about titles to Joel Sternfeld’s On This Site… which presents gorgeous large format landscapes and then with the title reveals a horrific crime that took place in that exact location years ago.)

What Chiang appears to be doing here is pointing to this tendency in a super meta fashion that sort of undercuts the logical underpinnings of this tendency.

I mean she’s basically presenting a photo and giving the photo a context–i.e. as something visceral but also as something diaristic (the notebook page, which should also be noted that by using the back side of the page instead of the front gels nicely with the compositional flaws in the photo as well as the fix.)

It’s all very elegant. But it’s interesting because the caption in the image: Kacy Hill, Cafe 50s, Los Angeles, CA merely describes what is been depicted. (That does provide some clarity at least for me because to my eye this could be a Brooklyn bodega deli for what I see of the background but the light is decidedly not east coast. The caption clarifies that.)

The title All the info is in the image is effectively illustrating what any fine art photographer does when the push work out of the nest into the world–where it will live or die on its own. The notion being that you convey enough of a context where the work can make a life independent of its creator. So it’s educational but I also feel like there’s a bit of an urge to proclaim that titling images is important and maybe we can do it in new and different ways just so long as we remember to enliven the context enough to justify such largess when it comes to authorial license.

Either way, I think Chiang’s work is several cuts above most of the stuff floating around the Interwebz these days. Definitely check her work out. It will reward your time and energy richly.

Federica ErraBlack Cloud (2009)

I’m not on board with Erra’s image making efforts. Her compositions are all too busily askew and impose a highly-contrived restricted palate upon the work which comes across as less considered and more reaching toward a sort of Brooke Shaden filtered through a ‘soft grunge’ aesthetic.

I’m posting this simply because despite the above criticisms–that apply here just as much as elsewhere in the work–I’m always fond of things that fuck with the idea that gender is strictly an either/or proposition.

The incomparable @knitphilia, who ran one of my favorite Tumblrs ever would’ve labeled this with the tag #pretty_masculinity. (She also had a #handsome_femininity tag that is equally if not more dreamy.)

marason:

Sögur/Stories

Sigurður Mar HalldórssonUntitled from Sögur/Stories series (2015)

This reminds me of one of my favorite scenes in one of the best TV shows of all time: Breaking Bad.

There’s something primal about the struggle of bone, sinew and skin trying to excavate the landscape. It’s mysterious, edgy and the amount of exertion required to make any progress is damn near monumental. (I think all of these reasons feed into the trope of characters digging their own grave under the watchful eye of a menacing captor–you really can’t approach the violence done to the earth without a mixture of literally morbid curiosity and dread.

Visually, this is a dynamic image. There’s a sense of heft and twist and flex of the physical motion conveyed in the pose. The mud streaked skin and fabric as well as the earth that has been cast aside all indicate this is only the beginning of a grueling task.

Insofar as the image is logically suggestive of a time that there was not a hole in the location, the present moment where a hole is perhaps beginning to yawn (more on that in a bit) and a point in the future when their will be a deep hole, it is flirting with narrativity. However, without an indication of the purpose for the hole, it only fits itself to the structure of narrative.

I will concede that there’s a fairly good chance this image is intended to reference an Icelandic Saga with which I am sadly unfamiliar. (The fact that it appears her shovel is currently empty and also that she is standing in the hole she is digging up to her shins in water leads me to this thought.)

However, whether or not it is supposed to refer to a widely known story, the fact that it the purpose of the hole is left so ambiguous, is actually very disappointing. I can’t really fully level the criticism I want here because I don’t know where the image was headed–although it seems very confident in itself. (Rightly so, for the most part.) Consider though how–and these are all cheesy cliche suggestions–the image would improve for the edge of a treasure chest in frame or the legs of a dead body.

In fact, as I think there’s something of an edgier tone and I get an amorphous feeling that the woman in this frame might very well have thinly veiled self-destructive motivations, a composite of her digging and then her body laying on the ground would’ve proved breathtaking in its simplicity and clarity.

Vivian MaierUntitled (1971)

Finding Vivian Maier isn’t just enthralling, it’s an exceptionally well-orchestrated documentary that is crucial viewing for anyone who is passionate about photography. (If you haven’t seen it already, please do.)

After watching it I was left with a number of questions: was Maier perhaps on the autism spectrum? To what extent is her work improved by Maloof’s posthumous curation? How did this woman who was–by all accounts absolutely awful at dealing with other people–produces such luminous and humane images?

But this image makes me drop those questions in favor of an imaginative flight of fancy:

A year before this image of was made, William Eggleston captured an image of a very similar looking young woman. Recently, Bryan Schumaat produced an image clearly intended to mirror Eggleston’s but that draws Maier’s image into more intimate dialogue with the other two.

It’s clearly not the same person–just a reflection of similar trends in fashion, similar predilections in image makers. (Although the same woman never aging and being photographed throughout the ages would make a wonderful premise for a sci-fi/fantasy story, no?)

I recently received a comment from an anon claiming that I was entirely too ‘self-satisfied’ considering the effect of prevailing intellectual trends in forming my notions. Generally, I do my damnedest not to feed trolls. And in spite of the fact that the fair response would’ve been have you bothered to read anything I’ve written? I’m pretty upfront about the deleterious effect of academnification on my brain. I call myself on it regularly.

I think less the question and more the statement these images make–whether they meant to or not–about the objective limits of originality in creative expression. Meaning and understanding function as a result of convention, after all.