Hart+LëshkinaCommand to Look for Near East (2015)

Such thoughts/feels about HART+LËSHKINA;  I am at a loss as to how to even begin addressing their work.

I guess as good a starting point as any is their compelling compositions. If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I’m hardly a proponent of vertically oriented photographs/digital images. In fact, I’m rather inclined to dismiss the vast majority of such work as #skinnyframebullshit.

HART+LËSHKINA‘s are a sterling exemplar of how to do vertically oriented framing masterfully–emphasizing an up + down over the left + right image reading default. (Also: while their vertical images absolutely stand on their own, they tend–at least with this editorial–to pair two vertical compositions as diptychs. This is a prescient strategy as far as balancing between orientation shifts but it also works to create a flow not only between images but also across the entire body of work.)

They do an insane amount with very few elements. (If you’ve ever worked in an essentially empty houses like this, you’ll know setting up rigorously staged images like these borders on impossibility.)

There’s a studied patience to everything–the way the pattern of the light passing through the windows is broken by the kneeling figure and broken again by the reflection off the open window we can’t see that is echoed by the open window we can see.

But the thing I like most is that instead of falling into the dichotomy of nudity as signifier for sexual subtext vs nudity as a natural extension of self (and when intersecting with visual representation, a means of expression thereof), this duo takes what I always feel to be the far more interesting route of poo-pooing the dichotomy and presenting it as if it’s simultaneously both and neither.

I also can’t help but think about another conversation I had recently about the pros and cons of the mass proliferation of digital. On the one hand, yes, there is absolutely merit to the notion that digital is a democratizing force. These days the obstacles to accessing a decent camera are fewer than they’ve ever been–and that’s not to discount folks the world over who are still struggling to find clean water and enough to eat. (In other words, it isn’t all about who has a camera and who doesn’t, there are ultimately other more pressing considerations.)

Yet, I don’t believe that this democratization has led to the sort of expansion in vital, important work. In fact, I think that the only real expansion is in half-assed, arrogant or just straight up bad work. And one of the fall outs from this is the expansion of a curatorial class.

As a curator (ostensibly), I have pervasive concerns about curation due to the fact that a curator’s purpose is to sift through impossibly large information reserves and then pass along the best and brightest bits. No matter how much careful consideration on the part of the curator, the resulting decisions are informed by personal bias, prejudice, etc.

On it’s own, that’s a huge problem. But then consider the fact that it’s impossible to sift through all the information and therefore every curator has enormous blind spots. For example: how long have HART+LËSHKINA been around and despite the massive overlap in what their doing and my own personal photographic preoccupations and I’m only now learning about them. (I mean: yes, they work primarily in fashion/editorial, which is decidedly not my bag, baby; still, it makes me wonder sometimes if maybe curators create more problems than they resolve.


Cara Robbins

Cara RobbinsAugust Getty SS2016 (2015)

The above image has a very Blow-Up vibe to it.

And the story behind it definitely fits that perception. Interview Magazine hired Robbins to cover Getty’s latest fashion collection “Thread of Man”

I know fuck all about fashion. When I buy clothes I usually wander around the store feeling each garment between thumb and forefinger. If I like the way it feels on my skin, I consider color–I have an unintentional fondness for earth tones, apparently. If I subsequently try the item on and it looks normalish on my frame, then we’re a go.

Thus, I had no idea that Getty is some kind of Fashion world wunderkind. He’s 21 and the above image is taken from his third ever show. For it he hired David LaChapelle. (Full disclosure: when I think of the word ‘garish’ the visual definition that pops into my head is exactly half Amsterdam’s Red Light District and half David LaChapelle.)

Given free reign LaChapelle, as he’s wont to do, built an elaborate installation on a Universal Studios back lot wherein to install the show. (If you care at all, read more about it here.)

Robbins choice to deliver the images in B&W is a bit idiosyncratic to me. LaChappelle’s work is loud and unsubtle and much of how he accomplishes this relies heavily on cacophonous color palates.

On one level, this decision is prescient: diminishing the fanfare in favor of emphasizing the clothing. (The dress and the way it fits is definitely the focus of this image; the rest is lagniappe.)

What strikes me as perhaps disingenuous is that Robbins’ work features flourishes that are frequently straight out of the LaChappelle playbook–especially in her portraits featuring more cluttered backgrounds.

All-in-all this is one of those instances where upon learning the context of the image, my original opinion shifts slightly to the bad. I just can’t shake the feeling that the image maker is hiding something in a fashion that is very nearly if not fully dishonest.


Kourtney Roy

Kourtney RoyUntitled from Hope series (201X)

I really, really, really, really, really super (that’s five reallys and a super) dig this image.

There’s a way in which a figure in a landscape skews towards being indicative of an underlying narrative.

I could digress into speculation on the relationships with staffage, segueing into an analysis of staffage’s inherent narrative potential by contrasting an idiot like Gregory Crewdson who won’t shut up about narrative but whose work is fundamentally un-narrative and a masterful painting like Bruegel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. (It’s worth noting that Roy’s image does suggest broad answers to the questions why is this character here–she clearly intends to go for a swim and is undressing to facilitate that. Before the moment we see now she was ostensibly not in the pool and we can presume based upon what we’re seeing that she will soon wade into the brackish water. Is her motivation being in a sort of dream-like state where she will sink into the puddle and be transported to another layer of a dream? Or are her actions driven be a sort of suicidal abandon–perhaps motivated by bourgeois ennui? Unlike Crewdson, Roy gives her audience nuanced implication from which to draw conclusion and does not rely on empty spectacle to miraculously catalyze the suggestion of the action leading up to this point and potential actions trailing away from it.)

Of course, there’s also comparisons which can be made with Stephen Shore’s American SurfacesHope seems almost self-consciously aware of it’s reverent emulation of the former.

But I think it’s all a little too easy to head down these rabbit trails. It’s not that I don’t think the work supports them–it very much does. And it’s not that while I am extremely fond of the above image, the rest of Roy’s work is a bit too late-70′s/early-80s high end fashion editorial kitsch in it’s frequently garish execution.

There’s an argument to be made that perhaps a more productive approach might be to examine the influence on her work of cineamatic auteurs. There’s a clear strain of Lynch–likely more directly localized in an idealization of Hitchcock. (It’s difficult to look at her supersaturated pastels and not think of Kim Novak’s wardrobe in Vertigo.

However, when you browse through Roy’s oeuvre–as I did this morning while sipping Chameleon Cold Brew Coffee–there’s a sense that you really miss the central thrust of her work examining her work as if it’s born solely from the influence of photographic progenitors. I dare you to try to look at her Carte blanche pmu/le bal series without flashing back to Jacques Tati–in particular: Playtime.

Harley Weir – [←] Agata for Baron Magazine (2014); [→] Greta Varlese for Self Service (2015)

I was not especially fond of Weir’s work, initially–it came across as frivolous, trite even.

Over the last year, my thinking on the matter has shifted; the mechanism of that shift was not solely motivated by the maturing of the work so much as the way that Weir has slowly but steadily improved by increment.

That’s an unusual progression to witness. Usually, you have someone who is making good work who disappears for a bit and then explodes back onto the scene with some skull cleaving next level shit. (Case in point: Jacs Fishburne, who has going from demonstrating obvious talent two years ago to sharing some fucking profoundly inspired and technically accomplished work.)

The sort of quantum leap tends to be the exception and not the rule. So it’s refreshing to see an artist to present such a public face to the false starts and failures that are informing behind the scenes growth in perspective and conceptual acuity.

It’s interesting to me that the now seemingly defunct Baron Magazine’s stated goal was something along the lines of exploring the space between pornography and art.

Overlooking the fact that there isn’t a proverbial no man’s land separating art from pornography, so much as a venn diagram overlapping, It’s interesting to see the image of Agata in that context. Why? Well, although she is nude, she is turned away from the camera (ostensibly also from the viewer). She’s undressing but in a way that is both sexy and awkward–she seems restrained by her clothing, in a way. There’s also the lurid 70s porn palate, super saturated red, pale rose and washed out blues. The phone on the wall, although distracting is a really nice touch that ends up selling the image.

In the second image, things on the surface appear simpler: a model in a fashionable sweater and tartan print skirt. The ¾ profile of the first image is shifted to 7/8 back to camera. The frame lines are tighter–below the eyes and mid-thigh. It’s obvious that Greta is positioned in front of one of those slightly marbled photo paper backdrops. The clumsily presented clothing as physical restriction theme is revisited… only this time the clothing is presented as something almost interchangeable with high end bondage gear. The positioning of her hands hikes up her skirt revealing a centimeter less of the cleft between her legs than would be pornographic.

With so many young women making work on the fringes of fashion and erotica, there’s a lot of talk about developing a female gaze to counter Berger’s art historical male gaze. I’m highly critical of this trend–mainly because the people who are most emphatic about claiming it really do very little in their work to justify their claims. But I think the key difference between the above images is the former is made–probably unintentionally–to cater to the male gaze. The latter won’t necessarily fail to appeal to the male gaze so much as to see it as erotic (and I would argue it’s actually far more erotic in concept and execution than the former is) requires a certain acculturation in an experience of visual culture that is decidedly feminine.

Paul MaffiLa fin featuring Waleska Gorczevski (2015)

Maffi trades in grungy/gritty street wise anti-fashion-as-fashion polemics.

As an aesthetic, there’s no love lost between it and myself because for the most part it seems to pride itself in the sheik, sloppy, ad hoc presentation as a means of conveying an immediacy and/or lack of pretense.

Even though I think of most of this sort of work as trash, Maffi seems to be using the aesthetic as a means to an end. The models he shoot lack the stylized contrivance of pose favored by most editorial minded image makers–you know, the it looks stunning unless you stop and think about and then the underlying physics/mechanics of the pose scream of the inherent unnaturalness.

It would clash horribly with the aesthetic if Maffi veered to the other end of the spectrum and sought to portray models in a state of relaxed, uncontrived naturalism. Instead, he splits the difference and gives this almost stylized but still somehow stunted/interrupted poses that always have at least one foot over the line into awkward self-consciousness.

I find myself wondering frequently who the people he shoots are, where they are and what they were thinking/doing before the intrusion of the image maker and the clacking shutter interferred.

Take the image above for example: there’s no rhyme or reason too it. It’s clearly a cellphone shot of an image on a computer screen. But despite all the things about it that make no goddamn sense, I’m still fascinated by it’s partially uncaring/partially whimsical oddness.

I’d never say it’s an objectively good image but it is interesting. And with the depressing state of eye-bloodying repetition that marks contemporary image making, interesting counts for quite a bit.

Carter SmithAn Oost (2001)

As fascinated as I am by the transgressive, I’m put off by cultivated hedonism.

It’s not even that I have a problem with pleasure for pleasure’s sake–after all everything in moderation up to an including moderation itself.

But, being an alcohol dependent individual, I’ve learned the middle way is better than the escalating risk/consequence cycle.

Sure, it was great when I was a twenty-something. The strange magic whereby no matter how late I’d been up binge drinking the night before, by noon I was right as rain.

As I’ve gotten older, over-indulging has increasingly long range effects that I simply can’t tolerate. However, I can’t stop drinking. Beyond the fact that I drink as a means of self-medication, I chase this permeability. A sort of running up to edge and dangling as much of my body into the chasm as I can without falling.

Part of the motivation is because I’m damaged goods. Or, a truer way of saying it: so much of what I’ve felt so strongly all my life–contrary to logic or any authentic personal experience–resonates with this image. I drink because every once in a while, if the moon’s in the right house, I remember what it’s like to feel physically present and entirely permeable with another person.


Mathieu Vladimir AlliardNicole Pollard (2013)

Such editorial-fashion portraiture is not my cuppa Joe. This though, I can’t get out of my goddamn head.

It’s the asymmetrical picked at nailpolish on her right thumb, the textured trim on her knickers, the way the light makes her hipbones look uneven, the mole above her navel, the contrast between the cream color of her bra against the sickly white of her skin somehow balancing against the dark background to create a strange vibrancy.

But it’s really the strangely intense blue-eyed stare somewhere between knowing, asking and boredom that is most captivating. I do not know what Ms. Pollard is thinking but I really, really, really would love to know.

Expressions are what elevates Alliard’s work above the paint-by-numbers editorial-fashion crap. His sitters usually appear edgily defiant and half feral.

A similar mien shows up in Ms. Pollard’s work. It’s less overt but she appears matter-of-fact, in control and as if she is prepared to give it to you with both barrels if anyone so much as thinks about giving her shit.

Somehow what Alliard customarily seeks and what Pollard offers, cancel each other out here. In the resulting void, something unexpected happens.

The single substantial criticism I have is #skinnyframebullshit. The only compositional logic governing the use of a vertical frame is to facilitate slimming–which is unnecessary and fucking stupid. Ms. Pollard is quite gorgeous but she’s fucking skinny. The bra straps hanging off her shoulders accomplish the desired purpose well-enough and do not require backup. Not to mention, the image would been moodier for landscape orientation as well as adding weight to the oddness of the expression.


(via Gilles Berquet la chair)

According to the American Cancer Society one (1) in eight (8) female bodied individuals will develop invasive breast cancer.

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death for female bodied individuals (after lung cancer).

It’s great news that new instances have decreased and that prognoses have grown more optimistic. The American Cancer Society, Pink Ribbon and other organizations have done a solid job raising awareness, emphasizing early detection and spurring research.

For all that–which should not be diminished–what about the eight person in that room. What part does that individuals fear, suffering and, hopefully, heroic recovery have in the conversation about breast cancer?

Some photographers have started asking these questions. I chose the Gilles Berquet’s image its fetishization of the body (and some definite #skinnyframebullshit).

Still, there is a regal, animal fierceness to the image. A strength and dignity in the face of fashion lighting and overtones of sexualization.

It’s a sight better than the more focused but less adept work of The SCAR Project.

Although the best image I’ve seen encountered is Sandra Blánquez’s stunning Ponte el pañuelo contra el Cáncer de mama.

Matters of respective quality aside: this is important work and it deserves a much wider audience.

See also: this.