Nicola Bensley – Leap, Amanda Dufour in Westbourne Grove (2016)
I really, really effing adore this image.
Upon first glance, it sends my brain skittering in two diametrically opposed direction. On the one hand, it’s obviously a work of pastiche–riffing on both Klein’s infamous Le Saut dans le vide and HC-B’s hyper-stylized staging as a form of invoking a sense of unmediated immediacy a la Derriere la Gare Saint-Lazare.
Yet, what’s notable is that the viewer doesn’t have to be even passingly familiar with either image to fundamentally appreciate the dynamic and compelling sense of physicality captured in the scene. (One of the things I feel that capital A Art has lost is a certain baseline accessibility. Recall Renaissance oil painting: there were intensely rigorous examinations of perspective, implicit critiques of religion and sexuality, double-edged political satire but also the work centered around themes and/or narratives that could be immediately apprehended by any one of the populace that encountered them–regardless of education or lack thereof. In other words, ‘high art’ was codified as emerging from something not entirely unlike the lingua franca.
That’s not to say there aren’t small criticisms to be lobbed at this image. The contrast has been dialed up a bit but in the process there’s this sort of weird juxtaposition between expansion and compression of space–the shadowed traffic signals pop out against the white facade behind them, creating a sense of distance between the two things. Yet, the dark pants of the two men standing in front of the dark van waiting for the signal to safely cross the street are compressed.
Dufour’s right hip and leg also lack separation from the background, yet the limited brightness on the back of her leg creates this strange push and pull, which contributes a further surreal effect to her levitation.
In truth, this image teeters precariously on not working. The reason it does hinges partly on the relationship between Dufour and her shadow.
The other, arguably bigger part is the way the up tilt of the camera exaggerates the sense of Dufour levitating instead of jumping at the perfect moment.
I have some additional thoughts that I can’t quite fit to words just now. But I really like the uptilt of the camera in this. I am usual very much a stickler for squaring verticals with the frame edge; however, there is a compositional justification for the decision here which demonstrates a ridiculously incisive understanding of the dynamics of framing a scene in order to parse visual information in such a way to convey a specific sense to the viewer.
It’s unfortunate that Bensley website is so horridly constructed–’cause her work is actually sterling and she’s doing so excellent and exciting analog photographic work.