Giangiacomo Pepe – Untitled (2016)

Everything about this photograph is effing exquisite.

If we’re evaluating it in terms of the Zone System, the majority of bright areas in the frame are either close to overexpsoure or legitimately blown out. In other words: zones IX and X.

It’s similar with shadow details, there’s pure black (zone 0) and black with hints of tonality.

This compression of both highlights and shadows, stretches the dynamic range of the mid-tones.

There aren’t really enough instances to really distinguish zones VII and VIII. I mean they’re there but the objective underexposure of the frame effectively renders fucking dynamic ass microtonal variations in zones III through VI.

The staging leans heavily towards frame left. The young woman’s back bifurcates the frame. Her pouring water into the teapot and the visible kitchen accoutrements pull the viewer’s gaze leftward.

As an photographer/image maker, you always want everything in your frame to work together to not only present a visually interesting moment cut from the fabric of space and time but to also present it in such a way that the viewer not only sees something but sees something in a particular way.

There’s a general rule regarding composition: that due to the tendency for the human eye to miss things that are center field, we tend to favor things slightly right or left of center. (Part of why the rule of thirds is so sacrosanct.)

A technique frequently employed to unify positive and negative space in the frame is (when you’re representing people) have their eye line look off into the negative space.

For example: if you position someone so they are in the left third of the frame, the should be looking to the right; whereas if they are in the right third of the frame, they should look left.

This breaks that rule but it does something else that is ingenious: due to where the young woman is standing the frame is divided into light and darker halves. This allows the viewer to see more of what she’s doing while also render the reflection of the light on her back in the what is it a silver serving platter leaning against the backsplash.

I would be very surprised if Vermeer’s The Milkmaid wasn’t some sort of inspiration for this shot. They make almost completely opposite technical decisions but the reasons for those decisions are governed by practical concessions to the limitations of the available space.

Also, I’m head over heels for the way the angle of the light accentuates the fine hair on her arms. Freaking gorgeous work.

Giangiacomo PepeUntitled (2013)


Back in 1999, Garrison Keillor suggested a broader conceptualization of what sex entails.

Sex is not a mechanical act that fails for lack of technique, and it is not a performance by the male for the audience of the female; it is a continuum of attraction that extends from the simplest conversation and the most innocent touching through the act of coitus.

A dear friend had posted it on her Facebook. It was literally the first thing I saw–all bleary-eyed–this morning.

It was one of those Oh shit moments where someone else somehow manages to express something you’ve been stumbling over for half a decade with a spare elegance.

For me, my experience of photography belongs to Keillor’s sexual spectrum. I mean, what but beauty causes anyone to lift a camera and sight a shot?

My reaction to beauty is unswervingly reliable: it overwhelms me, somersaults my tummy; makes me a blushing, shoe-tip-staring, dirt-kicking, boy-crazy teenage girl wanting from lips that won’t wet to shuddering knees.


Soon after the Keillor quote, Willow reblogged this from Sex Positive Activism

I was like what the fuck? A second Oh shit moment in the same day?

Okay, confession time: other than masturbation, I have been celibate for four-and-a-half-years. This is less a personal imperative than the fact that I am too irrevocably fucked for anyone to ever reciprocate the wanting I feel for them.

People always tell me that I need to have confidence. I think that’s bullshit. I don’t lack confidence. I lack a sense of entitlement.

When I was a film student, everyone worked with was invariably asked to do something either outrageous or obscene. No one took issue. Well, mostly. (In hindsight, I realize that I unintentionally created some very fucked up situations for people about whom I claimed to care a great deal.)

A number of things happened to shift this but one in particular stands out. For a group project, I had envisioned a scene with a bleeding, naked man smeared with mud running down a forest track. The actor who was supposed to play the part was a no-call/no-show and so I had to stand in. I was completely unnerved–I have always had a lot of body issues, they just haven’t always been the same–by the prospect of being naked in front of the small crew. I insisted on doing the scene wearing boxer shorts.

Watching the first and only (long story) screening, besides how my refusal to go nude ruined the scene, it hit me how fucked it was that I expected someone else to do the scene nude but I was unwilling to disrobe once I was in front of the camera.


As a result of these experiences, I abide by three etched-in-stone rules for photographing others:

  1. The photographer will under no circumstances touch the person(s) being photographed.
  2. The photographer will never ask anyone to enact anything the photographer would be unwilling to enact were the roles reversed.
  3. The photographer will never ask the person(s) being photographed to do anything the person(s) being photographed would not mutually desire the photographer to perform were the roles reversed.


The above image is not without flaws but between the mirror and the way she is reaching back to pull aside the crotch of her undergarment to reveal her vulva and anus, it is pornographic and capital fucking-A artful.

This is the type of work I want to make–conveying anger-verging-on-vaguely-self-destructive-arousal. I hardly expect Pepe to abide by my rules but the edge between consent and coercion is ambiguous enough on a good day that I worry about what goes on behind the scenes at his shoots.

I just don’t know how one ethically gets so many people to allow themselves to be vulnerable enough to pose in such a fashion. So many photographers seem to photograph their friends. That would be my preference. But the people in my life–who are fucking awesome and I wouldn’t trade for all the most-getting naked-est friends in the world–all have hang ups about nudity. It’s not that they aren’t sex-positive. (I just can’t do sex negativity. Not even a little.)

I worry that my own sexual frustration and realization that no one will ever ache for me the way I ache for them has tainted or will taing my work. It seems like if I could just find someone with whom I could share this sort of experimental openness in my work it would solve my problems.

The depressing truth is–there is no one who feels in kind toward me.

Giangiacomo PepeUntitled (2013)


Much of this rocks my socks: it’s shot on film, contains explicit nudity and the model is my ‘type’ to a T–thin with small breasts and geeky glasses; for good measure: throw in my permanent association of watermelons wjth Tsai Ming-liang’s brilliant (screw the critics) and perverse The Wayward Cloud.

There are at least two things about it that bother me, however. I don’t want to bring the body hair fetishism fire down, so let me start by saying: when it comes to body hair I believe–without equivocation– your body, your rules.

The trouble is due to the ubiquity of utterly depilated female bodies, undue cultural pressure against body hair exists and by existing it makes it more of a struggle to go your own way.

There’s the matter of her amputated legs, too. (Such is never justified–especially in the context of images featuring full-frontal nudity–but at least there is a compositional sense to it–her navel marks the center of the frame, the upper frame edge just misses her raised forearm and the concrete door jamb running along the second vertical third.)

I feel compelled to compare/contrast Pepe’s work Lina Scheynius, Igor Mukhin and Ren Hang. Yes, there’s extensive variations in styles, themes and tone: Scheynius is playful, Mukhin, insular and unflinching and Hang walks a fine line between confronting taboos and centering them on his audience.

In a similar vein, Pepe leads with his fetishizing of the female body.

The feels such fetishizing gives me are a complicated knot I’ve been wrestling to unravel for more than half a decade.