Juxtaposition as commentary
Lina Scheynius – mariacarla (2008)
Remember how from the point you started to learn long division onward, your teachers were always admonishing you to show your work!?
Up to that point the right answer has been more than enough but increasingly how you arrived at the answer becomes just as if not more important.
Lina Scheynius–more than any other photographer I can think of–shows her work.
To illustrate what I mean let me draw your attention to this heart-warming story about Peyton Thomas and what happened when her mother took her to skateboard at a local skate park.
The eye which lights on the figures and compositions that Scheynius chooses demonstrates a curiosity–nervous and often fumbling but completely engaged. When she captures an image, Scheynius is surprisingly like the girl in this story–she wants to skate but the circumstances surrounding it and her lack of confidence are all obstacles.
As such her work often shows a almost careless whimsy with regards to composition. For example: the above image doesn’t logically break down into any sort of sensible geometric proof. It’s literally about the diagonal (top right to bottom left angle of the light, interplay between the pattern/color of the dress against the carpet. Like most of her work–the colors are muted and muddy in an effort to render light the central focus.
Further, to me it feels as if the instinct of the image maker is to present Mariacarla in context. Due to this instinct, the curtain fringe and whatever the dark object pushes in along the top, slightly right of center frame edge.
In the end, it’s these two likely circumstantial elements that unify the image. And here is where the eye that edits the resulting images is comparable to Ryan Carney in the story about the little girl and her skateboard. Lina as editor acknowledges the wonderment but applies a critical eye. The accidental embellishments serve as a means of rendering the wonder impetus the sparked the shutter triggering legible to a viewer.
There are scads of photographers whose work functions as a primer in how to read images. But Scheynius, in the way she reflexive makes photos inextricably tied up in her process, is trying to show us how to better see wonder in the world around us.
Lina Scheynius – amanda (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.
The juxtaposition of the these three found images is an exception that proves the rule.
It’s one thing to re-purpose objects, materials and imagery. It is another entirely to effectively ground them in a new, full-functioning context.
Yes, there is a similarity in style and gaze informing the three independent of each other. And yes, they do sit side-by-side like well-behaved children at the dinner table.
What makes them work together is the Photoshop intervention–the addition of the dangling tampon string which does not feature in the original image.
Simple but startlingly affecting.
Photographer Lina Scheynius , Bandeau by Saint Laurent
Scheynius’ images make me feel all twitterpated and woozy-in-my-tummy. If I ever met her I’d become a shy, stammering mess of looking-down-at-my-Docs + kicking at dirt that wasn’t really there.
I don’t know what I find her more: talented or winsome. Then again, I don’t do well distinguishing between them.
Lina Scheynius’ photographs are above all sincere in their straight-forward simplicity and lack of self-conscious pretense—capturing not only the truth of a moment but something of the initial wonderment which sparked her mind and brought the viewfinder to her eye.
Like many young, internet-famous image makers she works at the interstices of documentary, editorial and erotic photography but her handles the material with a rare prescience.
Take this self-portrait where she appears starkly naked but protectively curled up on a leather couch. She is both seen and unseen.
I cannot help but apply that to her sense of herself as a photographer. She presents the world she sees from behind and through her camera. This is especially interesting given familiarity with her larger body of work as she takes great pains to push her personal boundaries more than her models.
In the minefield resulting from conceptual concerns over the visual representation of sexual identity and body politics, although what Scheynius’ is about is perhaps more instinctive than the collaboration between Traci Matlock and Ashley MacLean, it is no less vital or interesting.
And frankly, there are a lot of photographers who could learn something from this. I am sick unto death with voyeurs hiding behind cameras snapping away as they have models enact their most deeply repressed fantasies. (I am thinking here of an individual who I would rather not name but will give apply the psuedonym Reynard Yale.)
Take these photographs—similar in form and content, starkly different in execution.
Top: a stunningly young woman stands on a lanai, skin suffused by white hot tropical light. A medallion—perhaps an inch and a half in diameter—dangles just below her supersternal notch from a thin black cord encircling her neck; a visual trick that succeeds in making her tiny breasts appear flat. Her carefully manicured hands hook a thumb each in the elastic waist of her bikini, offering a glimpse of her depilated pubic area and labia majora. With her head tilted forward and right slightly—she appears as if interrupted in looking down at her body, judging how much of herself to reveal—eyeing finding the aperture and the spectator lurking behind it.
Bottom: Alba, (photographed by the devastatingly talented Lina Scheynius), a stunning young woman stands naked before an amaranth backdrop. Warm amber light—presumably from a window beyond the left frame edge—angles across her chest mirroring the line of her collar bone. Another illumination echoes the angle of the window—correcting it downward slightly— casting white across her right elbow, stomach, hips, unshaven pubis, finally finding her left forearm/hand as a result of the vague contrapposto bearing of her pose. Shadowed, her head gaze downward; focused on something only she can see. A single stray strand of hair escapes the bun atop her head, dangles by her cheek.
I know I am always going on about the politics of frame lines. To what extent I mean that as pertaining to graphically sexual images or all images, I am not sure I can articulate yet.
There is a general “rule” on this matter when it comes to image making: if you have to amputate a limb with the frame edge cut midway between joints instead of closer to the joints; this creating a more life-like rendering. (Don’t ever decapitate! Seriously if you are concerned for your anonymity just take a normal picture and black out your face in Photoshop, already!)
Which of the above follows this rule? What is the effect?
Also, note how the vertical frame edges in the top image do not line up with the fence or the edge of the patio.
The young woman in the top photo is sexually appealing in the extreme. After first blush, she is perfect. At the same time, she is not someone I am convinced could ever be known in any sense. Her eye contact purports a false intimacy, implies that if our paths ever crossed I would be best served to view her as nothing more than her exquisite body instead of seeing her as someone with a life that goes well sometimes, others not so much; who has needs both met and unmet. I am not saying she is objectified so much as reduced to an archetypal idea.
On the other hand: with every shred of context removed except her body, I find myself wondering who this Alba is, what her inner life is like at the same time I am aware that she wouldn’t owe me an answer if I ever met but that if I were lucky she might not mind being asked.
In the end, the last image is for me sexier; like most of Scheynius’ photos its restraint, patience and passion sears itself like a brand onto your visual memory.