Source unknown – Title unknown (201X)

The ubiquity of built in flash systems (point and shoot devices, smart phones, prosumer dSLRs, et al.) has fostered an understanding of the flash as a tool to increase illumination in low-light situations.

A clearer way of putting it might be to say that a flash is increasingly treated as a key light thus relegating ambient light to the function of a fill light.

This is in keeping with magnesium flash lamps of the late 19th century and the flashbulbs of the early-to-mid 20th century. Slowly, studio photography appropriated the flash in service of painstakingly orchestrated lighting design. There are and will continue to be outliers–Diane Arbus, for example, used a flash in a great deal of her exterior shots as a means of separating the subject from the background.

But strictly speaking if the purpose of a photograph is to freeze time, then a flash is meant to freeze motion. (Consider that most flashes have a maximum shutter sync (on the slow end) of 1/250th of a second. For those who aren’t die hard shutter bugs: ignoring film speed and aperture, it’s usually only possible to take a picture hand-held–without camera shake–down to about 1/30th of a second with an SLR type system. Rangefinders give you a bit deeper of a basement; I can operate handheld sans noticeable shake with a rangefinder down to about 1/8th of a second.)

I’m being overly persnickety and pedantic on this point because the flash here is not only the key light in this scene. It’s a motivated key light–it’s easy to think that there’s a lamp overhead and that’s the source of the light (even if an overhead lamp would never give off that much or that sharp of a reflected illumination).

The motion that is being frozen is not a sudden, dynamic motion–stretching the languid, perhaps even somewhat tender moment of this pulling of foreskin into the realm of the timeless and infinite.

It also reminds me of William Eggleston’s The Red Ceiling due to the similarities in the way the use of flash interacts with the composition and the way in which how what is seen (it’s aesthetic) is emphasized over what is seen.

Megan CullenUntitled (2016)

I am the type of girl who sees something and pretty much immediately feels something about it. It’s a great skill for someone who is–ostensibly–an art commentator. (Honestly, it’s effing exhausting af in the here and now of day-to-day exigencies.)

Usually, I’m pretty good at pointing in the direction of why I feel the way I do about what I see. However, there are times when I know that I like something but I am not immediately able to convey any sense of the why of my feelings.

This is one such image.

The pace of keeping up with running this blog, on top of holding down a FT job and also trying to focus on my own various creative efforts–I am not always able to dig in long enough to suss out the whys.

Typically, I either append relevant quotes which expand, compound or complicate the photo/image in a way that feels like it points in the direction of what I feel but have no idea how to articulate. (Same with my #follow_the_thread and #juxtaposition tagged posts; #palette posts were originally similar but increasingly it’s just proven to be a much more clearheaded and coherent–therefore less abstract–way of “speaking” about color.)

Present, I am–after much weeping and gnashing of teeth–finally operating with a bit of a queue buffer. So I’ve had a little bit of time to sit with this image and work to untangle some of what appeals to me about it.

At first blush, I have mixed feelings about the composition. Either the camera or the bus is not level and the camera has not been especially reoriented to compensate. The mass of black in the upper left corner renders the frame top heavy and cumbersome.

However…

The immediacy of what’s depicted diminishes the impetus on getting a perfect frame in favor of baseline visual legibility requirements.

And I’m cheating a bit and putting the cart before the horse here. My initial reaction to this was bus (public), boob (’private’). (I am and will forever be a sucker for things that transgress on entrenched notions of what constitutes public and what constitutes private.)

The next thing I notice is that there’s two people in the frame. The anonymous young woman flashing people on the street (?) and another woman cracking the fuck up inside the bus–presumably aware of what’s happening. (The initial immediacy of the image expands by placing the image maker and by dint the viewer in a relationship of both see and seen, in a way which self-referentially indicts the voyeurism of seeing with an empathy of an awareness of the political and absurdist facets of being seen given discontinuous overlapping contexts.)

This immediate sends my brain scurrying to make connections with other examples of similar charged visual depictions. In this case, I immediate remembered oan-adn – The passenger (2015) and k.flight’s 2008 self-portrait titled in the back of the bus.

After a bit more contemplation I noticed that there’s what is without question the symbol for an eighth note on the side of the bus directly below the boob peeping through the open window. This adds a narrative implication to the image. (I think anyone who attended a quotidian American middle or high school has experiences of the abject tedium of being stuck with a bunch of classmates on an interminable bus ride. It’s not difficult to image that boredom inspiring the students to see if they can begin a process of brinksmanship where you do things in such a way as to be seen by your classmates but not noticed by chaperones. I am very taken with narrative potentiality–always.)

Really, though in this case I’m all about that eighth note, or as the British refer to it a quaver. Consider the definition of quaver:

verb (used without object)

  1. to shake tremulously; quiver or tremble:
  2. to sound, speak, or sing tremulously:
  3. to perform trills in singing or on a musical instrument

verb (used with object)

  1. to utter, say, or sing with a quavering or tremulous voice

noun

  1. a quavering or tremulous shake, especially in the voice
  2. a quavering tone or utterance
  3. Music (chiefly British). an eighth note

Quaver is actually the pitch perfect word-concept to accompany this image. And it pushes my brain even further because although it’s been years since I’ve studied music theory it strikes me that generally eighth notes are more a function of time signatures with an integer divisible by 3 in the numerator–as opposed to the more standard numerator divisible by 2.

When I was a child my mother referred to this as the difference between march time (2s in the numerator) and waltz time (3s in the numerator). She explained that all you had to do was pay attention to the way your body wanted to move with the music. If you want to march in a straight line it’s two based; if you want to turn in circles it’s three based.

This image is absolutely in waltz time.

Source unknown – Title unknown (201X)

I always think it’s hilarious when someone like Lars von Trier or Luc Besson are accused of sexual harassment or assault, respectively–and the news is treated as if there’s a real question as to whether the accusations are true. For example: I’ve seen the entire back catalog of both men and given that it’s not actually difficult for me to believe the accusers. (Same with Woody Allen, honestly; like have you ever suffered through one of his preposterous, narcissistic films?)

But there’s also the backlash against these moves toward something more like parity of justice. Reactionaries tend to say things like: so I guess I’ll have to quit being nice to my female co-workers or else I might wind up saddled with harassment chargers. I find that a disingenuous rejoinder–if you are making the remark then you’re both aware that you said something that made someone else uncomfortable and feel that it wasn’t the big deal the other person made it out to be; in other words: you know that you’re behavior can be seen as a problem but you think it’s incumbent upon others to cater to your comfort level even if it means ignoring their own.

The point I’m making and what it has to do with this image is that in the immediate aftermath of #MeToo there were a group of prominent models that wanted to ban photos or images where the photographer/image maker reaches into the frame to touch the model’s body. (The folks in this case were arguing for a de facto ban on such images.)

I was super onboard with the spirit of the law in this case. I mean work by Insuh Yoon and 9mouth are intensely problematic with a lot of the stuff they do.

The letter of the law? Yeah, I’m less on board with that. So much has to do with context and across the board prohibitions tend to be problematic.

I think if you frame things as a photographer or image maker should never touch a model. That’s probably a good rule. However, I can see situations where touching the model is agreed upon. I’m generally very much against touching models in any way shape or form but as I’ve become friends with models and have built a solid foundation with them, things get a little more porous. When I do touch a model it’s usually to brush aside a loose strand of hair or to change the angle/way they are holding something. I’d never be comfortable touching a model as in the above image whether or not my hand was also in the frame.

But that begs the question as to whether or not this is a model. Like if this is two lovers and making images is part of some sort of ritual foreplay, is it wrong for their to exist images like this.

As gross as the trope of photographers and image makers who use their steady stream of lovers as models in their work, I do think there’s likely situations where it’s appropriate for a photographer/image maker to document things in their lives.

I’ve noted before that the bottom frame edge in any photo or image has an intrinsic functionality as a sort of fourth wall. So I think it might be better to first ask whether or not the viewer of the photo/image is a witness or a voyeur? (One of the biggest problems with work that features the photographers hand jutting into the frame is when it equivocates on whether or not the photographer/image maker is seen as a surrogate for the viewer.

The hand here is absolutely a surrogate for the viewer. The composition is voyeuristc and less documentary… except: it’s more complicated than that.

The depth of field is such that both the foreground and background are blurred. (And effect I adore.) In the background, the woman’s face is just enough in focus to determine that her face has taken on blissed out expression but the blurring allows her a degree of anonymity and privacy.

It’s clear she’s reach back to either indicate her anus or most likely to insert a finger to begin to loosen her sphincter for anal penetration. In most cases when a disembodied hand enters the frame if the hand is meant to read as the photographer/image maker’s there’s usually an emphasis on the taboo nature of the touch. It’s a possessive squeeze of a buttock or the spreading of labia, in this case the hand is more about maintaining the explictness of what is being seen while rendering it less graphically illustrative. That taken together with the flash and the ostensible scene of presumably a prelude to coitus–there’s something surprisingly sophisticated about this.

But that’s the other thing: this is one girl’s interpretation. Others’ mileage will almost certainly vary. Which is I suppose my point: I’m not very much in favor of a total ban or total permission. I suspect it’s really more nuanced than that and that given the language and familiarity with social, political and historical context I think the average person can easily learn to identify what’s maybe not ideal but is at least less outstandingly creepy and inappropriate.

Eric and Chris PhillipsPorn Resistance | Berlin for Pornceptual (2016)

To photograph reality is to photograph nothing.
                   —Duane Michals

Nudity is an art.
Besides, art is only nudity. There’s no more art, only too much
civilization. Art is barbarious. Art is loneliness. Nothingness is
perfect nudity.
                   —Raúl Ruiz

Sex is the biggest nothing of all time.
                   —Andy Warhol

Source unknown – Title unknown (201X)

This is almost certainly an homage to Nobuyoshi Araki’s 1993 Erotos series. (Araki is someone about whom I have entirely mixed feelings; yet even I can admit the series is something special.)

I’ve thought about just leaving it there but it occurs to me that there’s a parallel between this and Greta Gerwig’s directoral debut Lady Bird–which is also something truly special.

If you don’t really follow cinema, Gerwig has made a name for herself as both an astute and incisive actress as well as a startlingly original writer–she co-wrote and played the titular roles in Noah Baumbach’s Frances HA and Mistress America.

Anyway, Lady Bird is every bit as good as you’ve heard. Yes, it’s gallingly lily white. And as much as diversity and inclusion are of crucial importance, Lady Bird aces the Bechdel test in a way that few other things have had the audacity to even consider.

In fairness, I should also confess my own bias: as someone who went to a parochial school (and had much the same relationship to it that Lady Bird does), who felt stultified in my mid-Atlantic, white bread hometown; further, as someone who managed to escape that town by gaining admission to a prestigious liberal arts program, the story was unnervingly resonant for me. (Also, it was like a peak at what my life might have been like if I’d grown up female–as a trans girl, it made me feel seen in a way that I’ve never experienced in my life, if that makes sense.)

Anyway, minimal spoilers ahead: there are three scenes in Lady Bird that run parallel to this image: In the first, Lady Bird (portrayed with an utterly incandescent lack of self-consciousness and vulnerability by the staggeringly talented Saoirse Ronan) is laying on the floor at her prestigious catholic school next to her best friend. They are both on their backs with their legs propped up against the wall snacking on pilfered communion wafers.

The viewer joins the scene en media res and while it’s clear they are talking about using the faucet in the tub to masturbate–their candor is intriguing. Lady Bird is trying to seem cool and worldly, but it’s her friend that actually centers the conversation in the politics of self-pleasure not as an exercise in social conformity but as a means of enjoyment. There is nothing salacious or even remotely titillating about the scene.  It’s solely focused on the way teenage girls talk about their experiences of being embodied with each other employing a guileless openness and trust.

But like everything in the movie, the jokes are polysemous–frequently doubling as self-deprecating asides directed to the audience, who is given the advantage of something closer to third person author omniscences w/r/t the narrative.

During a later scene, the viewer is shown the faucet of a tub. A bare leg enters the frame and braces against the pink tile beside the faucet. It’s clear that it’s Lady Bird’s leg due to the pastel polish on her toenails. It doesn’t hold on the shot. It’s presented matter-of-factly, devoid of any lecherous voyuerism–however, in the context of it’s function as a call back it’s honesty is thorougly disarming.

In a scene approaching the end, Lady Bird is called into the Mother Superior’s office–ostensibly for disciplinary proceedings. The nun, however, is far more interested in the psychology than the behavior. She tells Lady Bird that she was impressed with the way she describes Sacramento in such vibrant detail in her college admission essay that she seems as if she rather loves the place. (An on-going joke in the movie is how she considers the city the mid-west of California.) So it’s surprising for both her and the viewer to hear this interpretation.

Lady Bird realizes her typical brusqueness on the subject will not be well met, so she–brilliantly–counters with: I guess I just pay attention to things.

Without missing a beat the nun responds: some might say that loving something and paying attention are, in fact, the same thing.

I keep returning to what the nun said: paying attention and loving are two manifestation for the same underlying truth.

But back to the image–because no matter all the extraneous stuff I routinely throw at you to try to keep your attention–the reason you read this is because it’s supposed to relate to the work showcased.

I won’t argue that this is a good image. At the very least: it isn’t an image that’s easy to immediately digest. You look at it. Think wait. Did I see that right? Look again. Yes, it’s what I thought it was the first time. Wait, are you sure? Look again.

It occurs to me that the image above is erotic only in so far as it invites sustained attention–even if it’s only decoding how things are oriented in the frame. And to me that suggests a potentially worthwhile framework for disguishing pornography, from erotica, from art. Porngraphy is a specific text in framed in a more generalized context–heteronormative patriarchal expectations with regard to libido, lust and physical intimacy. Erotica is less focused on the specificity of the given text and more concerned with the expansive context. Whereas, art, is–in some ways–entirely focused on the marginalia expounded and clarifying the relationship and interpenetration between text and context.

There’s a saying that the mind is the body’s largest erogenous zone. The only way to stimulate the mind is by paying attention–by loving.

Sam CoxMiss Mac (2017)

A bit of a disclaimer to start off with: Cox’s work is FAR more hardcore than I’d normally showcase.

That being said: although his work is over-the-top as far as raunchiness goes, he is innovative.

As a rule, I am dismissive of TTL metered flash-driven, ultra-contrastiness (regardless of whether it’s color, a la Ren Hang, or B&W).

Cox, however, does use it consistently to facilitate a disarming immediacy. For example, I have mixed feelings about the framing here. On the one hand, I can’t really accuse it of the usual dismemberment although there’s very clearly no sense of extension beyond the borders of the frame. The orientation of the image, very clearly implies that although we don’t fully see the handstand’s foundation, it is clearly supporting Miss Mac’s full weight. Conversely, I do appreciate the sense of hurry up and get the shot because this is an ephemeral moment. (That’s another thing for which Cox does have quite the knack.)

What I love the most about this is the way the flash casts a shadow that–in turn–creates a sense of increasing separation between Miss Mac and the wall against which she’s bracing her feet–it’s exquisite.

Sannah KvistUntitled (2008)

Sannah Kvist = newest image maker crush.

If you’re looking at this and thinking of William Eggleston’s The Red Ceiling, then you’re eye is totally on fleek.

And like Eggleston she’s doing fascinating things with color. (I’m still too blown away by her work to start processing my thoughts just yet.)

But what’s even more interesting is the way that she borrows heavily from Stephen Shore, mixing in some Paula Aparicio and Mathilda Eberhard to keep it fresh and on the bleeding edge.

These days it takes a lot to get me worked up over an entire body of work, but I’ve spent several hours looking through Kvist’s Flickr account and she really is effing amazing.

Source unknown – Title Unknown (19XX)

This is not a good photograph. Good or not, it is goddamn fascinating.

The color is positively garish–render skin tones livid with blue green bruising. The two tone yellow of the tub and wall paper certainly doesn’t help matters.

But note how the reflection of the flash off the mirror–while absolutely contributing to the fucked up color balance–is rather lovely when you only consider the reflection.

And I do love the way the cunnilingus giver is supporting the receiver’s hips with her hands, the soapy wetness of the skin and the despite the unflattering angle, how the receiver’s reflection appears so unfeigned in its blissed outness.

whenitgetsheavy:

Libby EdwardsCollab (2012)

Not only a weird angle, this is rather unlike the rest of Edwards’ images.

The strobe bleaches right up to the very verge of burning away texture and color from flesh–waterline tracings still show a membranous sheen against skin.

Water fragments and refracts, a hissing sizzle bouncing between and dotting bodies; arcing strings stretching and shivering–quick silver in a vacuum tube.

And oh just look at all the secrets two hands hide in their showing.

  1. Right edge of frame: a thirty party watching, approaching; casting a shadow figure bent beneath the spray.  (The Observer Effect) EDIT: Alveoli Photography sees this differently. The ‘third’ hand is actually his left hand reaching over to trigger a short cable release. This makes more sense than my interpretation since the third person would have to be roughly 6’7" to account for the positioning i had in mind.)
  2. & her hand’s Apollian claiming a quote from the greatest sculptor, Bernini.

This is sexy a fuuuck.