My fixation with this photograph boils down to the line of Miller’s neck.
Weirdly, it reminds me of one of the weirdest notes I ever got from someone looking at a drawing I had made–way back when I was 17 and was determined to have drawing be my medium for becoming a famous artist: someone told me they thought my drafting skills were atrocious (true) and that I lacked even a rudimentary understanding of form (a bit overblown, as far as criticisms go) or the conceptual reflexivity between content, context and materials (also: true) but that they loved the truth of a particular line (which they indicated).
It always struck me as a way of making a scathing critique palatable but I realize now that it was actually a backhanded compliment. And it’s this photo that’s made me understand why that’s the case.
See it’s not just the line of Miller’s neck. It’s sensuous–the way the light chisels her body out from the shadows. The pose is meditative and intensely vulnerable but everything about it seems to radiate a warrior’s strength and self-possession.
Also–synchronously: my MFA cohort has begged me to organize an informal class where we screen underappreciated/forgotten miracles of the cinematic form. Last night we I presented Joachim Trier’s Thelma. (Trier is one of the most exciting young filmmakers in the world, having made three films that are all wildly different in style and tone but that all embody a startlingly refined sense of visual dynamism and psychological intensity.)
It’s the 2nd time I’ve seen Thelma (and it’s even better the second time around–I’m pretty sure it’s the first movie in a decade to crack my top 10 favorites of all time) and I was even more impressed with the attention to detail and depth. But also: it’s a bit unnerving to watch because I not only relate to the character but I also see the movie as a kind of mirror because the degree to which the character is aware of herself as both herself and a character in a dramatic scenario short-circuits a lot of my own parameter defenses and I have this weird experience of watching someone who not only looks like I see myself in my head but experiences the world in a way that goes far beyond superficial similarities. Watching it is almost like having someone take my notion of myself and putting her in a narrative that would be exactly the sort of narrative I’d put myself in given half a chance.
And that’s how I feel about this photograph of Lee Miller: that although it was made almost a full 50 years before I was born, it still shows me something unexpected about myself.
Janice Guy – Untitled (1979)
Murray Guy is one of the most preeminent galleries for photography, film and video.
Janice Guy is the co-founder and co-owner through March 2017.
She founded the gallery in the 1990s after moving to NYC from Düsseldorf, Germany.
Being a woman and a photographer preoccupied with self-portraiture, she’s frequently lumped together with folks like Ana Mendieta, Cindy Sherman and Francesca Woodman–the operative framing being fixated on artists as both simultaneously author and subject.
To think of it that way strikes me as a bit lazy. It fits–with certain limits–for Sherman and Woodman–less so for Mendieta; however, most of Guy’s photos feel less like self-portraiture and more like proto-selfies.
If one were to describe Guy’s work she documents herself as a photographer considering herself in a mirror–i.e. she’s not setting up the camera like Sherman or Woodman and then positioning herself in front of it; she’s interested in including considerations of process in her product (if you subtract capitalist connotations and instead consider the term in a more mathematical sense).
She’s nude in most of her work–except for a utilitarian wristwatch.
Her work wasn’t really exhibited until the late aughts–but there continues to be interest in it to this day and I suspect that interest may even grow down the line.
I’m not especially familiar with Rheims work but from what I’ve seen of it, she seems to meet her subjects halfway.
What I mean by that is not something I know how to easily indicate. It’s kind of like this: most photographers/image makers operate with a reliable fixation on appearance as factual representation. In other words: they trade in the ontology of I can see this and I can show you this, so this must be ‘real’.
There’s a lot made of Rheims and her use of color in concert with insanely high quality printing to “[make] the flesh appears living and [contribute] a disconcerting realism.”
I don’t disagree with that summation. It’s more that I think the way Rheims uses her erotics as a mode of unsettling the viewer serves to create work that trades less in establishing sacred cow archetypes and more to show people as they are instead of how they would like to be seen or represented.
And isn’t that just the central tenet of artfulness–the dialectic between hyper-stylization as a destination in and of itself vs that rare effortlessness that takes oodles of effort to accomplish but the accomplishing carefully erases any sign of over-the-top intentionality on the part of the creator.
For something as heavily contrived as the above image is: shot in a studio, with precise lighting orchestration, there is something compelling about the way it absolutely doesn’t read as pornography in spite of what it depicts.
(Full disclosure: the above is not the image I wanted to post most of all. I am especially fond of this one from the same series but I couldn’t find a HQ scan of it, unfortunately.)
I’ve wanted to comment on his work in some way; however, the overall quality demanded much more than an OMFG, lookie at the pretty colors!
Since Chill follows this blog, I figured it couldn’t hurt to reach out to him in an effort to learn more about his process.
To my surprise, he not only responded but expressed excitement at the prospect of addressing a handful of questions.
AE: Right off: I am en-goddamn-thralled by the interplay between color and depth of field in your work. It’s almost as if the dominate hue permeates the frame so completely it becomes sort of liquid—not unlike amber encasing an object. Short of Uta Barth, I’ve never seen anything that conveys 3D space in a 2D medium quite like your images. Could you talk a little bit about your technique?
Chill:Your amber metaphor is fabulous (and unusual). I really like [it]. I’m very [sensitive] to the way [things are seen]. This picture of a liquid enveloping everything is pretty and poetic. I’ve always been attracted by vivid colors and natural light. There is a particular energy and a pleasant atmosphere in it. I love close frames, it reinforce details you want to highlight and naturally goes hand in hand with intimacy.
I always [meet] the person before the session. In a nice place, [getting to know] each other, talking about what we like, what we don’t, exchanging some ideas, answering questions, etc… I think it’s normal and human « step » before making pictures. It also helps me ([and] the model) to feel more comfortable.
I work as much as possible in natural light, which makes me dependent on it. Scene colors, clothes that the model will wear, skin tones… influence substantially the result of my photo sessions. Every meeting is unique, and that pushes me to adapt regularly. Anyway, it’s never pleasant to cancelling a session when the weather is really bad. I [applied] myself seriously in photography when I bought my Canon EOS 40D. It was my first DSLR and I really enjoyed [using] it for 6 years with [the] 50mm lens I still have. I have [had] a full frame camera (Canon EOS 5D) for a little over a year. My shallow depths of field, my highlights and my frames are natural. I don’t post-process [my pictures much], my motto is to keep my pictures as natural as possible.
AE:I am going to be a bad interviewer and digress into personal biography. Similar to you, I am a self-taught image maker. I’ve also taken photography courses at an MFA level and in my experience there is a near total disconnect between traditional so-called fine art photography and autodidact practitioners—the form and content of the respective works are different + the conversations surrounding them couldn’t be more opposed. (The DeviantArt/Flickr/Tumblr crowd raves about Traci Matlock and Lina Scheynius whereas the MFA kids seemingly can’t shut the fuck up about Eugene Atget and Robert Frank.) Beyond your manipulation of color with depth of field what interests me about your work is that it feels like it’s standing in the middle of that bridge of impossible crossing dividing non-traditional and traditional fine art practice. In form and content your work is pointedly non-traditional; however, my own response to it skews much more towards engaging critical and conceptual concerns instead of pondering why the work interests me and/or whether or not I like it. I am curious as to how you arrived upon such a rare middle ground.
Chill: Your analysis is very interesting, I hadn’t seen the things like that and I’m truly touched by it. I discovered photography during my studies, far away from the artistic environment. A sideline which quickly captivate me and became my main passion. I grew up in a family where there wasn’t any particular interests to photography or visual arts. The fact that I fell in it by simple curiosity still surprises me now, so much [that] I…feel like…it [now] forms integral part of me.
Being…very curious, I quickly realized that everything was possible in photography and it was necessary for me to control my equipment to succeed in doing what I wanted to. …[M]y technique became a kind of personal signature. I developed my skills in a rather naive way…according [with] my tastes and my desires. I try again and again, different things, randomly or with a precise idea. I correct. I start again. I think it’s in this way I developed a certain rigor in my photographs over time.
AE:What artists do you consider to be indispensable influences?
Chill: I’m an admirer of Helmut Newton (Newton’s glamour and erotic style is unique), Richard Kern (for the natural and living side), Larry Clark (I like the way he has sometimes to disturb through his works, and his manner of filming. Rough and true.), Ryan McGinley (for the timelessness, unique ambiances and dreamy pictures) and many others…
AE:While she was a terrible fucking person—not to mention the unsavory whiff of implied slut-shaming—there’s this Margaret Thatcher quip: Power is like being a lady…if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t. I mention it because I feel it is apropos to straight, cisgendered men who shoot erotic/nude work and waste a lot of breath pontificating on how much they respect women; meanwhile their work suggests a patently sexist agenda. In other words: if you respect women, no need to pat yourself on the back, it’ll show in your work—end of fucking story. Your work comes across as at the minimum cognizant of feminist concerns w/r/t the politics of representation/depiction. And that makes me wonder to what extent—if any—you are consciously trying to subvert the art historical trend of privileged straight men objectifying the female body? Do you identify as a feminist ally?
Chill: I’m into body photography in [intimate] environments. Of course, I’m conscious that many pictures I make are glamour and sensual, and can be, unfortunately, …interpreted or quickly…catalogued as being a part of the art historical objectification of women by privileged straight men.
I would…identif[y] myself… as a a feminist ally, because I’m completely against [such] objectification of…woman and it’s always very unpleasant to receive those typical male comments about my photographs. I find that disrespectful for the persons I photograph and…my work.
AE:In an interview appearing in issue 6 of Koch Magazine you mention that nudity presents the opportunity to capture a certain ‘timelessness’. I am curious as to how that is perhaps counter balanced by your expressed interest in shooting in the model’s environment whenever possible. Grounding the shoots in modern, personal spaces seems to contradict such ‘timelessness’. Could you talk a little about how these two features of your process connect?
Chill: The fact of photographing the model in his place, when it’s possible, reinforces the intimacy, and that’s what I try to show firstly. The environment is significant to the intimacy of the person photographed, and nudity becomes a means of enriching this intimacy.
To make timeless nudity possible, the environment has to be neutral and minimalist. Thus emphasizing only the body and not the body being a part of the place.
AE:You are stranded on a desert island. A desert island that counter-intuitively (and conveniently) has electricity, a phonograph and a DVD player. You can bring only 3 albums and 3 DVDs. What can’t you live without?
Sean Ellis’ Cashback (2006) – I love pretty pictures, I’m attracted and embroiled by them. And every scene of this movie is one.
Guy Ricthie’s Revolver (2005) – Because of the actors, the strange story, the soundtrack, the photography, the humor and the style.
AE:What was the last book that really blew your mind?
Sandcastle (Chateau de sable) by Frederik Peeters and Pierre Oscar Levy (comic book) – A closed session between 13 persons on a beach, who will face an inconceivable event which will [raise] many questions about themselves. I can’t tell more.