Joel-Peter Witkin – [↑] Poussin in Hell (1999); [←] Anna Akmatova (1998); [+] Nude with a Mask, LA (1988); [→] Still Life, Marseilles (1992) [↙] Glassman (1994); [↘] Naked Follow the Naked Christ, NYC (2006); [↓] Arm Fuck, NYC (1982)

I was in my final year as an undergraduate in an advanced philosophy course when I made a terrible mistake. I used the word ‘tautology’ in the context of something that was axiomatic instead of something that was redundant. Folks looked at me strangely and finally another classmate asked rhetorically whether or not I was aware that I had clearly no idea what a tautology was.

Joel-Peter Witkin is similar. For whatever reason: I’ve always associated him with Jerry Uelsmann’s seamless multiple negative fantasy landscapes.

But Witkin doesn’t really have anything in common with Uelsmann. He works with a single frame–frequently scratching the emulsion, obscuring his negatives with tissue paper when printing, defacing the film and smearing chemicals and lord knows what all else everywhere. He’s a bit like Bosch with a camera. He has a ridiculous familiarity with art history. (The proper way to introduce his work to me would’ve been to say: you know how much you love Mark Romanek’s work on // | /’s Closer video? Well, Romanek stole whole cloth, half of the visuals in that video from Witkin.)

Once I realized my mistake I dug into his work. There’s a lot of fine lines in his work–not just scratched into the negatives but conceptually. He’s a devout Catholic; also: a left-of-center Democrat. There’s a lot going on in the majority of his frames. Personally, I think that 65% of his stuff is overwrought to the point of sensory overload. When it works it’s unrivaled–a la Poussin in Hell. Mostly I prefer his less busy, more balanced compositions.

35% of his work is either too masterful or too audacious to ignore. (I’m not exactly on board with his politics and he’s not done a very good job of being sensitive to the marginalized communities he likes to depict.) And really there’s a lot of shit with his work that is not easily defensible. He’s borrowed Rhesus monkeys from animal testing labs to feature in questionable contexts within his work. (One of his most notorious photos straight up implies bestiality.)

Feeling stifled by the rules in the US against such thing, he spent time in Mexico during the early 90s photographing corpses. His exquisite Glassman was the pinnacle of that work. (I read this story before I ever say the photo, so I was never even a little put off by the work. I just think it’s brilliant.)

He’s certainly not the first artist to fixate upon cadavers. da Vinci gained a great deal of his anatomical acumen by dissecting human corpses. Then there’s Stan Brakhage’s The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes–which has always struck me as antipathic through and through. As well as the work Sally Mann did on her Body Farm series.

There are oodles of problematics and objections that can be pointed at Witkin’s work. I think a lot of that has been overlooked because the work has been seen as too irrevocably unpleasant. (A lot of the criticism of his work during the late 80s and early 90s involved objections along the lines that Art is meant to instruct and edify, whereas Witkin’s work vacillates between fomenting revulsion and focusing on visions of disquiet, alienation and brutality.

Perhaps he was merely 25 years ahead of the curve because this stuff feels of a piece with a lot of edgy, emerging internet art. I’m really sort of hoping this post will take off–in spite of my heavy handed prose.

Romy AlizéeJe sais que tu me regardes (2016)

Originally, my thought had been to post the above side by side with this image (by fuckingfilthyminds).

My interest was contrasting the degrees of abstraction vs contextual clarity in the two images. (The above is better, the linked image diminishes context in favor of both anonymity and to encourage an experiential POV perspective for the viewer–which makes the classic cishet mistake of assuming the entire rest of the world is straight like you.)

The linked image is technically superior–the flash above isn’t overexposed in the foreground and almost over-exposed against the white wall in the background but at the same time there’s no texture whatsover in the cushions on the couch. I’d give it a pass except the way that her head bleeds out into the cushions in a way that’s just sloppy.

Unfortunately, the other blog is fairly clear about their desire not to have the images copied and posted. And the image I wanted to post is at the tail end of a post where the quality of the images is just inexcusably and narcissistically bad.

Morgan Gwenwald – Untitled (1992)

All I’ve been able to learn about Gwenwald is that she was a photographer active in NYC primarily during the late-70s and throughout the 80s.

Most of her work appears to be documentary in nature. (The most comprehensive collection can be accessed via the Lesbian Herstory Archives.)

However, it seems that she was also very active in efforts to reappropriate depictions of the vulva from mainstream pornography. There’s mention in a couple of places about a notable image entitled Incorrect View of the Beloved. ( can’t actually find an example of it online, but there is a reasonably specific description here.)

Source unknown – Title Unknown (19XX)

This reminds me of both Man Ray’s pornographic self-portraits with Kiki De Montparnasse and Hans Bellmer’s test photos for the cover of L’histoire de l’oeil.

But it mirrors (along a vertical axis) the infamous Mapplethorpe photograph.

I’m fairly certain this post-dates the first two and predates the latter. As much as I admire Bellmer’s audacity in presenting the extremity of sexuality without ever losing site of the hunger for physical pleasure that motivates it and how much the clean minimial aesthetic of Mapplethorpe’s image speaks to me, I think this may be if not the better image out of the aforementioned cohort, it is the most interesting.

There’s a way in which it contradicts itself. The intimacy of the extreme and extremely graphic close up with the bracelet dangling from the wrist–at once both private (an intimate document) and public (a jewelry advert). There’s the way the hand on the left hand on the leg can be seen bracing with an implicit violence to administer greater force or a calming/reassuring means of facilitating connection through an intense physical experience.

Source: Unknown

As far as terms go: ‘fisting’ is problematic.

It’s used because well, duh it’s hell of effective–immediately obliterating any ambiguity regarding its meaning.

Yet, with ‘fist’ routinely associated with  the context of ‘fighting’, ‘fisting’ arrives on the scene back filled with at least an implicit connection to violence.

In keeping with this fisting depictions tend to emphasize the extremity and violence of the act. I don’t want to yuck anyone’s yum–if someone wants to have violent sex with (a) consenting partner(s), I support them. But to me, fisting has less to do with extremity and violence than trust and intimacy–again not that those things are in any way mutually exclusive.

She lay face down on the bed in my dorm room. I sat beside her, two fingers to stimulating her g-spot.

Shimmering pre-orgasmic tremors curled my fingers slightly and  I began to twist my wrists side-to-side.

More. Her voice strangled and husky.

I introduced my right ring finger. Letting it gently plumb her wetness, her warm depth.

I teased her clitoris with my thumb for a moment before corkscrewing my fingers in her again, Her body began to tense.

With both hands she reached back, grabbing my arms: more.

Four fingers; More.

Quick–like dropping a heavy rock into thick mud, my hand was consumed up to the second joint of my thumb.

Are you okay? I asked.

She nodded, pressing my pillow around her face with both hands–a muffled: don’t stop.

I met resistance, pushed into it until little by little the widest part of my hand disappeared.

Her breathe–short, sharp gasps sending shimmering contractions racing along the musculature of her back and thighs

Instinctively, I licked the finger tip and gently massage her clitoris with my left hand. A long, atonal moan stretched itself out from her throat into the room. I twisted my hand so the first knuckle of my thumb moved over her g-spot.

Her moan stuttered and caught in her throat; my hand was suddenly immobilized and then shimmering spasms cascaded in waves.

kalkibodhi:

The reach through

KalkiBodhi Archives

Even though it’s oriented without any goddamn regard for compositional logic and lacks the technical rigor and sophistication of say a comparable work by Robert Mapplethorpe, this image is noteworthy for avoiding the visual impoverishment which seems to follow as an almost natural consequence of focusing on the extremity of the act– an experience contrary to the experience of fisting and being fisted.

Not that extremity should be excluded. It is more that any roughness or violence in the exchange is– at least in my own experience– is beside the point. It’s about intimacy/connection; or, more specifically it strips the pretense and affectation of intimacy/connections, laying bare the vital underlying vulnerability. 

That’s my two cents, anyway. And since our experiences ends up projected outward on the world around us, this is what I see here.

Plus, I think it’s hell of sexy that you can see her piercing.

amorsexus:

robert mapplethorpe / bush

For me, the cloud of controversy surrounding Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs becomes a filter through which I see them.

Mapplethorpe’s focus on taboo/pornographic content courts outrage. But it is an outrage unlike the allegations of child pornography leveled against Sally Mann for Immediate Family or claims of exploitation dogging Nan Goldin since The Ballad of Sexual Dependency; it is intended. Mapplethorpe invites a visceral reaction, even if that means pissing someone right the fuck right off.

Were that all he were about he’d be no more relevant than any other shock-solely-for-shock’s-sake artist. What makes Mapplethorpe matter is his realization that for good, bad or ill: even being pissed off at it necessitates at least some degree of visceral engagement with the work.

A dangerous thing when the work possesses a deep wonderment and the  taboo/pornographic content is carefully underscored with an uncommon intimacy. Even more upsetting when technical craft is so stunningly refined—and not for its own sake, as a testament to a belief in the labor owed as a result of being allowed to bear witness to profound beauty.

This is may be why Mapplethorpe’s work remains controversial—one either sees and embraces its beauty or the dissonance between authorial intent & audience reaction creates a deafening feedback loop.

(Then again, I could just be floored by finally finding a depiction of fisting that despite being a bit too much of a close-up is masterfully executed and resonates with my experiences of feeling my hand encircled tightly with wetness and warmth.)