Nagib El DesoukyArtemis (2018)

Every time I’m cruising through my liked posts, I always pause over this photo.

It’s not just this picture, everything El Desouky posts is quality and every third post or so is freaking brilliant. However, there’s something about this photo in particular that I find captivating.

I think it’s mostly the spot on-ness of Artemis’ daydream-y expression. Still, there’s something weird about the composition.

One of the things you learn when you’re studying photography in academia is that one of the ways you can balance a composition is to use the subject’s gaze to draw attention to negative space.

Think of it this way: imagine a photo of someone standing near the rim of the Grand Canyon–given that the camera is set up so that the edge of the canyon runs more or less diagonally from the lower right frame edge to the middle left frame edge.

You take two pictures. In the first, the model–let’s call him Edwin–is standing just back from the edge of the canyon at the left edge of the frame. He’s looking out beyond the left frame edge.

For the second, keep Edwin’s pose the same only move him so that he’s positioned in the right third of the frame.

In Photo #1 you’re seeing Edwin but you can’t see what Edwin sees. You might wonder if he knows he’s missing the view. Or, conversely, maybe he’s got a better view than you, the viewer. (Also, the human eye is generally more immediately interested in people over landscapes–thus: there’s a tendency to focus on Edwin without fully grasping that Edwin is standing in the landscape, due to photographs predominantly scanning from left to right.)

In Photo #2, his positioning dictates that you aren’t seeing the same view but there is at least overlap. It’s possible to follow the angle of his gaze and infer something of what he sees.

In the photo of Artemis, you can somewhat follow her gaze–there’s a bright circle of light (presumably from a gap in the trees foliage about 1/5 of the way down the left most frame edge that is more or less where she’s looking, although her gaze is at an angle that is slightly turned towards the focal plane).

Normally, this would be a trap for the gaze while scanning the photo. It’s not here. I’ve been trying to figure out why and here’s my best guesses:

First, there’s some interesting stuff with triangulation. That little black sprig sticking into the lower left of the frame? It forms a natural triangle with Artemis’ eyes and the aforementioned bright dot in the background tree. This pushes your eye left.

Then there’s the upward oriented triangle suggested by Artemis’ arms–this draws attention to her face but it also echoes a larger triangle between the three darkest points in the frame: the sprig at frame left, her hair to the right of her face and the area in the thicket of flowers near the lower right edge of the frame.

That thicket of flowers is rowdy and cluttered, but the slightly soft focus renders them a decorative anchor to the foreground without distracting our attention from the subject.

All of this is executed in a style reminiscent of the way Renoir tends to give solidity to objects in the foreground while rendering the background in a sort of teary eyed blur.

Ofer DabushUntitled (2017)

This is the fourth time I’ve featured Dabush’s work in ten months.

His work emphasizes an astute attention to the interplay between colors, an impeccable sense of composition as a mode of graphic design as well as a stripped bare minimalism as act of visceral confrontation–a confection as intriguing as it is intoxicating.

The struggle that I’m beginning to have with his work, however; is that I see him leaning heavily on experiments other photographers and image makers have already done a lot of heavy lifting on.

We all borrow and remix–there’d be no art or creative expression without those acts. Yet, who Dabush borrows so assiduously from is a bit more problematic.

One of my previous posts was meant to point out that several recent pieces of his might as well be direct visual quotes from Prue Stent. He’s also posted work highly reminiscent of Laurence Philomene’s. The above is of a kind with the predominant thrust of Joanne Leah’s work from the last several years.

I keep thinking of Watson and Crick vs. Rosalind Franklin. If you’re a science nerd, you’ll probably know this story already but Watson and Crick had been researching DNA but were more or less stuck. Someone introduced them to the work of Rosalind Franklin–who had discovered that DNA was arranged in a double helix formation. Watson and Crick realized that the discovery was huge and rushed to publish it, so they could stake their claim to it. It’s only recently that the two thieving bastards are started being treated as such and Franklin is only just beginning to receive her due.

Not saying that Dabush is necessarily stealing. (Correction: he 100% is in the case of Prue Stent, the rest are more nuanced and I believe given the rationale that it’s not stealing if you take something and make it better–I do think he is pushing the things he’s borrowing from other artists in meritorious directions. But it is still somewhat off putting to see a cisgender dude seemingly target the work of up and coming women artists.

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…

Fernando Schlaepfer#353: canoas – joana (2016)

Generally: 365 projects–where an image maker posts one image a day for three hundred sixty-five days–are something I give a hard pass.

I recognize and appreciate the motivation, I guess–learn, grown and become better through actively doing. That’s certainly valuable.

However, the entire premise strikes me as nonsense in exactly the same sort of way the Gladwellian 10K hours to mastery is a garbage idea; namely: emphasizing the destination over the journey.

If the goal really is to motivate someone to become a better photographer or image maker, then the 365 model is effective only insofar as you make pictures ever day. The impetus to share at least one image a day on some social media site or another undoes any good that making pictures every day enables. It makes it not about the quality of the work or even the work itself it makes it about the motivation to gain attention through doing the work.

The truth of photography and image make is you’ll go for weeks, months and even years without making a single picture that’s worth two shits. Taking the picture is only ½ the equation and it’s actually arguably the less important half.

You can be the best, most accomplished shooter in the world but if you can’t edit what you shoot, then you are nothing more than a resounding gong or a clanging symbol.

All this is a prelude to say that Schlaepfer’s nude a day for 365 days project is an exception. Yeah, not all of the images work but a third are good and he does manage to produce at least one great photo once every couple of weeks.

It’s easy to look at his work and start addressing influences–Ren Hang and Akif Hakan Celebi; Schlaepfer is less brusquely transgression-is-serious-business than the former and nowhere near as ostentatious as the latter. It helps that Schlaepfer has clearly studied the cadre of West Coast lifestyle-oriented image makers with some attention and that manages to leaven his material, giving it some range.

The above image of Joana isn’t the best in the project but even if I’m not fond of how dark it is, there is something beguiling about how unassuming it is in its simplicity.

John DugdaleA Turbulent Dream (1996)

I’m forever suspicious of artists who lead with a list of influences. It always feels a bit like an effort to force your work to rub shoulders with the work that initially drove you from passive consumer to active creator. And it frequently comes off as an attempt to predispose the audience to approaching the work in a proscribed fashion.

I’ve learned to be especially dubious of people who lead with exceedingly obvious options. Like I’m not going to talk about the influence of Francesca Woodman or Andrei Tarkovsky on my own work because the debt is so extensive and front-and-center that to draw further attention to it would be rudely redundant.

Dugdale’s portfolio is there double quick with the suggestion of a genealogy shared with Henry Fox Talbot, John Herschel, and Julia Margaret Cameron. Excluding Talbot, they aren’t the usual suspects.

He goes on to mention the American Transcendentalists: Whitman, Dickinson, Thoreau, and Emerson.

I’m always intrigued by the cross-pollination of disciplines in the arts. So a photographer who cites writers as influences, has my attention. (In my own work, although I won’t get into Woodman or Tarkovsky, I will absolutely drone one endlessly about the global impact on my own creativity as a result of the music of Godspeed You! Black Emperor.)

For the benefit of those of you who aren’t necessarily well-versed in the art historical equivalent of card counting, Dugdale is soft shoeing it around a rather obvious exclusion: William Blake.

But wait, you interject, wasn’t Blake all about Red Dragons and The Ancient of Days?

Indeed he was. But, bear in mind that Blake was subversive as fuck. He was re-introducing the fantastic to the familiar–the familiar being prudery surrounding the practice of Xtianity. Or, if you’d prefer: Blake wanted to reappropriate wonder from centuries of lifeless liturgical boredom.

Dugdale’s work seems comparably preoccupied with searching for the transcendent in the mundane.

And now I’ve earned the right to inform you that Dugdale is completely blind and has been for the majority of his photographic career. 

Alexandra SophieSecret Garden (2014)

I have no idea which came first this project or Natalie Fressel’s Forbidden Fruit but there is absolutely overlap between them.

Fressel is all about color and blunt synecdoche; Sophie is more subdued but she also presents a coy playfulness.

I’d be willing to give both the benefit of the doubt and tout them as promising up-and-comers. Except, well, when you get down to the nitty gritty, Sophie’s work is actually categorically better.

No, it doesn’t have to florid color. The skin tone is a little flat and the grass doesn’t quite pop the way you’d maybe hope from an artist working in color. What is exceptional about these are the positing of the hands.

Now before you start lecturing me about how you didn’t even notice the hands, so why am I banging on about them. Well, that’s my point. Look closer–remembering the oft repeated frustration people express about being in a photograph: I never know what to do with my hands.

The hand positions in this are very obviously staged but not in a way that stands out. (The hint of the fingers in the third frame from the top is freaking ingenious.)

I’m super hesitant to impose meaning on work by artists with which I am only passingly familiar, but the way this is about touch and so much of the dynamic effect depends on the hands, I think under the darlingness of these pretty pictures is a very intense effort to develop a visual language to address representation of a woman’s sexuality. Specifically, I’d be pretty willing to be this project is actually about the relationship between young women and masturbation.