Ofer DabushUntitled (2016)

This image doesn’t so much fit with this project. I’m including it for two reasons:

  1. I effing love it; and,
  2. the vast majority of Dabush’s work is of a piece with the rest of the stuff I feature here

Seriously, it’s really worth spending some time with his work. I don’t necessarily love all of it–he plays fast and super loose with compositional grammar and he frequently present work that’s miles of style with only a couple centimeters of conceptual depth–the two influences on his work that come through the most clearly (at least to me) are Ryan McGinley (whose work is gorgeous but almost entirely vapid) and Yung Cheng Lin

No matter: Dabush’s work is all capital Q Quality (as far as I can tell).

I’m especially interested in this because of the texture. The tightly knotted pile of the carpet as a backdrop for the linear forms of the ribbed knit pullovers against the softness of the women’s faces.

The .exif data on this was not stripped prior to upload. Take a gander:


The 29mm focal length suggests this is a zoom lens.

There are two kinds of lenses: prime lenses and zoom lenses. The characteristics are not interchangeable but let’s consider Canon’s 28mm f1.8 to establish some sort of framework.

The minimum focus distance for the 28mm f1.8 is .25 meters, a bit under 1 foot. Thus, with the lens dialed into the the nearest focus, something .25 meters from the camera will be in sharp focus.

BUT! The wider the angle of view provided by the lens, the greater the depth of field. (ex. a 28mm f1.8 lens will have a much greater depth of field when set to the minimum focus distance and widest aperture than a 85mm f1.8 set to the minimum focus distance and widest aperture).

As the aperture narrows, the depth of field increases. Thus, given that this is already a wide angle lens and the aperture is stopped down slightly less than halfway, you’ve got a reasonable slice of the area of view in focus. To say it another way, given these settings it would be difficult for you to not capture a frame that is in sharp focus.

What’s interesting and artful about the way this frame is handled is–unless my eyes deceive me: the camera is focused so that the majority of the area in focus in the frame is actually behind these two women. The carpet is very sharp, the sweaters still sharp but maybe a touch less so and you get an additional, softening flattering affect on their faces due to the fact that the near focus is just beginning to go a little soft.

But there’s a third element to what makes this work that is even more notable: color.

There’s this notion named chromostereopsis–it’s basically the idea that red advance and blue recedes, aka why 3D movies are a thing.

Yes, the carpet here is grey but it has blue in it and therefore it seems to recede from the focal plane, whereas the red pushes upward toward the viewer. The result is that although the red is just as close to the carpet and the camera as the yellow, the red stands out more and this illusion contributes dimensionality to the yellow, also.

Lastly, the yellow to red spectrum of the two sweaters include the skin tones of the two women; in combination with the grey-blue carpet this emphasizes their faces in the frame.

Great work from someone who is clearly an astute image maker.

Cass BirdHeather Kemesky (2016)

Usually I’m not into editorial or quote-unquote lifestyle work.

What tends to resonate is image makers who take what functions and discard the rest. (Here I’m thinking of Lina Scheynius with the way she appropriates the tropes and visual language of lifestyle only to filter them–incongruously–  through her distinct lo-fi aesthetic and diaristic tendencies.

Bird’s work is more of a hybrid between editorial and lifestyle. Were that all, then I would be less enamored with her work than I am.

Perhaps the best way to get at what I mean is to focus on the hybridization. Usually, editorial work is supplemental to text–it’s a form of illustration, in effect/a picturebook for adults. Whereas, lifestyle tends to be fixated on immediacy of experience, beautiful people in exotic locales appearing relaxed and happy.

From the former, Bird adopts an unusual concreteness. Her images always have a lucid and clearly legible tone. (Consider the above: there fading light and heavier hues, lend a melancholic feel that is subsequently amplified by the gravity of the pose–head down, the look at me I’m on my period implication, belied by the might as well be joyful grin.) The tone alone frequently contributes a strong narrative thrust to the images. In other words, these images are able to stand on their own independent of their intended context.

Whereas with the latter, there’s an immediacy of bearing witness. I’m struggling with how to articulate what I mean on this point but it’s something like the built in interest that comes with viewing images of people you know, say on Facebook, on vacation, hanging out, going to a show, etc. They don’t have to be good, for you to experience some slight vicarious rise in yourself.

Bird’s work has that sort of feeling to it, except the images aren’t just interesting for what they document, they are astute considered and technically accomplished.

Lastly, Bird is clearly a talented image maker. But I get the feeling she’s an even better editor. I had a really difficult time deciding which image of hers to feature. I ended up going with this one but I’m head over feet for this one. When editing there’s a tendency to focus on style to the diminution of substance, an impetus for excluding the imperfect in favor of the unimpeachable. So it’s nice to see an image maker who although she seems to have precocious luck at capturing that perfect moment in an exceedingly well-considered composition, will opt out of any sort of perfectionism in favor of an indelible moment.

Amandine KuhlmannCinq Sens [Five Senses] (2015)

The adage talent burrows, genius steals–most often attributed to Oscar Wilde–actually originates from T. S. Eliot:

Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal;
bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something
better, or at least something different.

There’s zero question that Kuhlmann is stealing with this series. The color palate, poses and timing might as well be verbatim visual quotes from the posters for master provocateur Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac.

I won’t argue that these images are better than the posters. If nothing else, the posters almost certainly required a team of creatives and tens of thousands of dollars to produce. They are more dynamic, dimensional and artfully constructed.

But Eliot doesn’t imply that the only justification for theft is that you make something better–making something that is at least different is also an option.

Kuhlmann succeeds admirably in that regard by focusing on little tics–scratches, broken blood vessels under the skin, a silvered thread of spit suspending bubble of saliva above a mouth open in an orgasmic gasp, hair clinging to sweat slick skin.

Looking at these makes me realize that although the Nymphomaniac posters are technically superior–they could have been much more impactful if those responsible for creating them had been more attentive to such seemingly mundane details.

Willy KesselsFemale nude from behind (19XX)

I’m too fuzzy on the the epoch to identify the progenitor here but this is reminiscent of both Edward Weston and Man Ray.

I’ve mentioned before that Weston’s enduring reputation is due to the brilliance of his skills as a print maker not especially as a result of his compositions.

And with Man Ray, who referred to images of himself as rayographs, there’s always a feeling I have when I look at his work that he felt the women he photographed were art only because they were fucking him at the time.

Kessels’ photo manages to skip the sentimental nostalgia for heated fumbling adolescent sexual exploration and present something unusually reserved, almost reverent.

Source unknown – Title Unknown (20XX)

Artfully depicting masturbation is not an easy feat.

The act is private, sequestered. Thus, the question of how one witnesses such goings on becomes central—is it voyeurism, exhibitionism or a bit of both?

The more voyeuristic the image, the less intentional it appears, the more it relies upon the reputation of the image maker to supplement its ‘artistic’ merit.

The more exhibitionist the image, the less artful it appears–exhibitionism being rooted in self-consciousness and the efficacy of art being so commonly measured on its ability to annihilate notions of self and other.

This scene suggest an altogether brilliant fucking with this dichotomy: subvert the distinction between subject and object. What’s one of the oldest means of doing that? Reflections.

Now, I will not argue the young woman is unaware of the camera. (She definitely is… at least initially but she’s watching herself trigger and experience her bodies sexual response.

This discursive nesting of contexts–for me at least–continually refocus my attention on her increasing arousal and accompanying pleasure.

That to me is such a fucking turn-on that I really can’t even…

(NOTE: I had previously published .gif excerpts from this clip. I’ve elaborated somewhat on the comments accompanying those .gifs in an effort to tidy things up a bit.)

Lina Scheyniusamanda (2014)

If you do any reading on Scheynius, after the model turned photographer angle, you’ll invariable hear folks opine ever so elegantly about how her work focuses on intimacy or is preoccupied with the so-called female gaze.

I won’t object to either suggestion but I do find the tendency towards reducing a complicated, nuanced work to one or two of it’s representative elements almost always does a disservice to the artist and the work.

To my eye there is always something related to an effort to externalize and give voice to a primal, gnawing physical desire.

I don’t remember where I read it–perhaps in Scheynius’ recent interview with Zeit–where she recalls how one of her first modeling contracts stipulated that she could not gain more than a cm in any of her measurements over the course of a year.

And in much of her self-portraiture there is an element of violence in the way she documents her body that is always in dialogue with a ferociously unapologetic presentation of sexuality and a flirtatious ambivalence towards coyly implicit and outre explicit.

However, this approach to depicting herself doesn’t extend to others. The unflinching eye she turns on herself, becomes tender, seeks the wonder in light on skin, the line of the body in space–a fierce awe that acknowledges the connection between physicality and sexuality while refusing to sexualize the subject against the parameters of how they wish to be seen in any given moment.

Merel WessingTitle Unknown (200X)

I’m not 100% as far as the attribution on this.

Google Image search best guesses as Belgian model Merel Wessing.

With the galaxies of freckles on her forehead and around her eyes, this is almost certainly the same young woman.

It seems she’s a photographer too. Or was, at least–there’s a Flickr account bearing her name and the The Way Back Machine shows updates between 2007 and 2011.

Unfortunately, none of those images are cached. Anywhere as far as I can tell.

Excepting the above, another photo from this same ‘shoot’ and this, her work has been scrubbed from the Internet.

Although there’s no way to qualitatively assess her abilities based on three photographs, the images–especially this one–justifying a strong curiosity with regard to the rest of her work.

I have an itching suspicion she was/is very good, if not flat out phenomenal.

Nina Ai-Artyan10 (20XX)

What draws me to this image is ultimately what alienates me from it: the impossible-ness of the boundary between middle-grey and nearly-black running along the inside of her left arm.

It’s meant to look like an analog print–although I’d wager it’s a digitally post-processed negative scan.

There are two dead give-aways:

  1. Although it is possible to exert God-like control over a traditional darkroom wet print; even with Edward/Cole Weston caliber perfect prints, the result will never be as clean as this.
  2. The white at the right-edge and especially in the upper right corner would not produce a tone distinguishable from the paper backing.

Ai-Artyan has done traditional darkroom work. Yes, her prints are sloppy; but accompanying the mess is a sense of struggle, of painstaking labor, a sense ennobling the resulting work in a way from which her remaining work is bereft.

I don’t mean to be overly harsh–the necessary raw materials for greatness are present. All that’s missing are some shift in perspective–inspiration maybe, more likely desperation–and a commitment to the truth underlying the image above everything else.

Source: Unknown (Initial posting here, maybe?)

With depictions of desire, why is it at best & always a little of the good and a little of the bad?

I want to like this. That’s not fair–dismemberment of her right forearm and both legs by frame edge & #skinnyframebullshit aside, I like it: I swoon over freckles like it’s my job and I prefer giving over receiving. Credit should also be given to the bokehed emphasis of her expression/face as opposed to her body and her lover’s hand shielding her is a delightful gesturing.

Still I am hesitant to embrace; I think because it strikes me as a clumsy half-measure.

Yes, shifting depictions of sexual pleasure away from the usual male-bodied locus and onto female-bodied individuals is out-fucking-standing; but this well-intentioned effort only serves to reinforce the traditional one-dimensional view of female bodies as the singular site of all that is sexual.

The unfathomably talented Sarah Polley–who, duh, I LOVE–implicitly calls bullshit on the double standard with regard to depictions of nudity in her film Take this Waltz. It’s depressing how shocking it is to audience to have female nudity presented in the way male nudity is: i.e. as incidental and unconnected to sexual behaviors. This reprehensibly simple-minded conflation of female bodies with sexuality is fucking everywhere.

And it’s not not that female bodies are not or shouldn’t be sites of sexuality; they are and will be forever and ever amen. The fucked-up thing is they shouldn’t be the only such site.

Again credit to those out in front of this issue. I’m thinking of Beautiful Agony, Clayton Cubitt’s Hysterical Literature and clever work like this; or, any effort really to present sexuality as an extension of an interpersonal totality and not the requirement of a body.


nicely in b/w

As per usual, I don’t like images that cut off the subjects head to preserve anonymity. There are literally a million more thoughtful ways to do it.

I am, however, enamored with the texture not just of her shirt but the way the light not only adds dimensionality, it gives a papery luster to her skin.

Texture isn’t only an aesthetic interest. I am highly sensitive to tactile stimulation. For example: on a good day so much as the rough seam accidentally sliding over my nipple as it is above would turn me on.

Then there are days–like today–where the thought of it is nearly enough to make me come like gangbusters.

These are the days wherein I would almost prefer to be no more than this goddamn alone.