Jo JankowskiTitle Unknown (2014)

I am intrigued by the odd confluences acting in Jankowski’s work.

I’ve maintained for years that there is a Russian/Eastern European visual aesthetic. Perhaps, it’s just a psychosis from spending entirely too long immersed in Russian cinema, but I feel like there’s a certain grimy patina leavened with pre-fab brutalism, an ostentatious minimalism and an almost obsessive mediation between extremes–labor perpetually balanced against leisure, dour pessimism countering a perhaps misplaced belief in better days to come. (It’s something I’ve thought for ages–but wasn’t something I was certain of until after I spent so much time exploring Berlin. The wall may be gone and the permeability has been in place for so long that while it’s no less glaring–you fundamentally feel the difference between East and West as you move from one to the other.)

Jankowski has that Russian/European it-ness.

If you go solely based on his website, it would be easy to lump him in with his fellow countryman Fred Huening–there’s a large degree of overlap in their conceptual and thematic elements.

But that’s not as interesting as examining how there’s an essential French-ness to his work also. I mean the look and feel of his images is heavily informed by Cartier-Bresson. But there’s also whole cloth from Brassai and Atget.

I don’t believe it’s an unconscious affectation on his part. For example: there’s a way in which his work–at least to my eye–is obsessed with questions of revealing vs concealing. It’s not something you’d automatically get from the above image. But it’s a little more clear in this:

Pay attention to the way the reveal–the woman with the camera using her foot to hike up the model’s blouse seems to be revealing but is merely contributing an erotic charge to the parabola of the woman with the camera’s skirt hem.

Further, I can’t look at this image and not think of this shot by Helmut Newton. Newton’s image hinges on lurid colors and insinuations of lesbianism; a thinly coded, sugary confection designed to do little more than superficially titillate. Jankowski–by contrast–is not interested in serving up kink for kink’s sake. Instead he shows us a scene where we’re allowed to see but are shut out from any sort of interaction. The scene isn’t for or about us–we’re just being granted an opportunity to observe it.

I am not just an analog purist when it comes to photography: take your Nook/Kindle/iPad and shove it up your ass sideways.

Give my hand the solid heft of a book, smooth texture of cover and spine against my skin as it spreads open, beckons my gaze, waits for fumbling fingers and claims my mind so completely for a time.

And the smell…

So, in summary:   

1. Books are hell of sexy as fuck.
2.This had me from lesbian foreplay in a bookstore.

Being a book loving nerd makes me no stranger to bookstores. But I have an affinity for them I don’t know how to explain except to admit that books very nearly jump off the shelves and latch onto me. (Also, I want to visit the Ryōan-ji Temple one day and when I imagine what it will be like it always feels the calm, timelessness that I almost always fee in bookstores.)

But there’s also Fowles’ The Magus and Franzen’s The Corrections framing the head of the young woman whose undergarments are being removed—both of which I have read and enjoyed to varying degrees. (Leave the Franzen. Take the Fowler.)

These tiny points of familiarity engage me with the tableau.

Right off, I notice the woman being undressed is not entirely comfortable with transgression of personal boundaries but remains nonetheless consenting.

This resonates deeply with me. See: I am borderline autistic and as a result have zero ability to negotiate expectations others have for/of me. As best as I can tell this is a result of my inability to understand inconsistencies in the personal boundaries of others.

A tact I have learned for managing this is to assume everyone I meet has the most highly restrictive personal boundaries I can imagine until I discover some evidence to the contrary.

This has the benefit of preventing many otherwise unnecessary misunderstandings with strangers and acquaintances. But it causes problems as I only know where I stand with them when they tell me. And in relationships such a prerequisite is not exactly desirable.

The only thing that works is the rare person who enjoys pushing personal boundaries and is completely unprepared for someone who almost completely lacks them.

All that is to say: I would give anything to trade places with the woman and have my friends who I trusted completely begin to undress me daring me to stop them. Knowing they would if I asked and knowing that I would not.