SakurawayUntitled from Basic Instinct II series (201X)

Sakuraway is a Chinese image maker based in Shanghai.

He’s a bit like what you’d get if you put equal parts Shae Detar, Ren Hang, Maxime Imbert and Ryan McGinley and shake them vigorously.

He is–quite frankly–trash at editing his own work (far too much work that emphasizes a quantity over quality approach). But there is definitely some great finds amidst the surfeit of dreck and he has a charmingly idiosyncratic eye for color.

Hsieh Chun-Te – The Romance on the Stele from Raw series (1987-2011)

The images in the Raw series are intended to be narrative–yet what the narrative entails remains muddled due to how little is available on the artist in English.

For example: an image titled Bitches was, according to Chun-Te inspired as a result of: “overhear[ing] a journalist
friend of mine who got beaten up during an investigation of human
trafficking of a prostitution ring. Girls were captured then sold, some
of them tried to escape.”

I was not able to find the creative impetus underlying the above image. In fact, I discovered very little of merit beyond this blurb from the 2011 Venice Biennale.  I agree that themes of desire, eroticism and death permeate his work. But, he’s clearly working within the Surrealist tradition. (I feel as if this is so apparent as to not need comment but to put to fine a point on it, he makes a point of telegraphing this affectation via his inclusion of bowler hats–a reference to Margritte’s seminal painting The Son of Man.

I’m inclined to disagree with the aforementioned blurb w/r/t what the above image depicts. It takes the easy route of correlating death and eroticism and suggests the image depicts a scene of capital punishment by means of being fucked to death. (The pose of the woman in the image suggests she’s still very much alive.)

And that is definitely an interpretation in keeping with the tone. Except, I read this as a far more nuanced examination of punishment in society. The relationship between the person receiving punishment and the remove at which the person who inflicts the punishment must be placed in to avoid sullying polite society by association.

I look at this and see it point to an irony. We’re not okay with this because of the context–restraint as a means to facilitating punishment and punishment as a means of retaining social control.

But this can also be read as an allegory of the relationship between pornographic performance and consumption within a capitalist, hetero-patriarchal system.

And really one of the reasons this works so well is that the author is clearly far more interested in pointing to a slippery corollary than passing any sort of judgment on it.

Andrew V. PashisRed Clover Meadow (2008)

This isn’t a good photo–the composition is more concerned with getting the shot than rendering the scene in a clear and legible fashion.

Plus, I’m really not a fan of simulation, fakery or pretense in depictions of sexuality.

However, neither trait prevents me from outright adoring this image and it’s audacity certainly helps with that. The sort of devil may care presentation reminds me that some of the best sex I’ve ever had has featured a comparable setting–i.e. a place that is exceedingly public yet simultaneously secluded enough to render the chance of getting caught with pants down or dress up is not absent but small enough to justify the risk.

The rest of Pashis’ work is significantly more thoughtful than the above. It’s possible to see the broad strokes of the visual it-factor that marks most if not all Eastern European and Russian work so that you can spot it forty yards out. The feeling that nudity although culturally mired to a degree with sexuality is more a by product of the intensity of surviving the harsh winters. A matter-of-factness about the mad desire to soak up sun with as much skin as possible during the white heat of summer.

But whereas someone like Mukhin seems charged with a certain higher octane vitality when his work witnesses the more transgressive features of Russian youth culture or someone Evgeny Mokhorev’s likely inappropriately edgy fixation on young bodies as the locus of a darker yet also truer sexual freedom, Pashis is more openly voyeuristic, classically inspired, contrived and at times unapologetically aggressive in his presentation.

Although mad props are in order for his transformation of one of Ryan McGinley’s worst images into something fantastically crackling with the unfettered potential of being young, free and if not immune to consequence then aware that there’s no bending heaven so you might as well raise some hell.

E. E. SpurrierUntitled (2015)

This reminds me of something I witnessed in college.

There were two grocery stores within walking distance from campus. One was an off-shoot of a big chain but featured a better selection; the other was one of those football field sized containers for endless aisles stocked with crap food and the whole affair sick with dead light and saccharine pop music over the PA.

Everyone on campus went to the second place.

It wasn’t necessarily the draw of the place but one of the advantages was the store hadn’t yet discovered those wheel locks that rendered the carts immobile beyond a certain distance from the store. It was a pretty common occurrence to see classmates pushing a cart overflowing with groceries down the side of the road back to campus.

The carts that wound up back on campus were usually returned (eventually) to the store by campus security. However, during their time away from their usual service, they were drafted into all kinds of absurd shenanigans: grocery cart jousting, the hauling of care packages from home between the post office and dorm room and use sometimes even illicit prop in a drunken visual joke.

In my case, the young woman in whom I was interested–but stupidly didn’t realize for another three years didn’t feel mutually–would get extremely drunk off of vodka and would assume an atrocious Russian accent. She would insist that she was Svetlana and Svetlana was crazy and down for just about anything.

So this image reminds me of Svetlana and one of her friends (both straight and cis), climbing into a cart and miming lesbian hi-jinks for the boys looking on.

And I guess that’s what appeals to me with this–it certainly isn’t the image makers aesthetic which is pretty much hideous even if despite it he does seem to manage to frequently capture what appear to be earnest expressions of sexuality among close friends: this does not appear to be a coy, ostentatious mime for an audience.

I mean sure it starts off with that–the appreciative but toothily self-conscious grin is quickly replaced by the focus of surrendering to someone who you trust and who knows you as well as if not better than you know yourself.

Source unknown – Title Unknown (201X)

I have objections to this–namely, the camera’s proximity to the action implicates it as a participant/not strictly an observer. The image would’ve been improved dramatically by moving backward say two feet. (Further, you know, DoF could’ve been a little more thoughtfully implemented and a series of unfortunate Photoshop decisions might’ve been avoided.)

Still, the image is super hot and not just because of the graphic penetration. (Also, it bears mention that I am super supportive of this as a depiction of safe sex that doesn’t come off as perfunctory, forced or trite.) I think it appeals to me because there’s enough context to suggest that this is a public environment. But something I’m realizing more and more about myself is depictions of sex that are salaciously focused on reproductive organs just do not do it for me. I want to see an effort to communicate physically the unsayable intensity of passion. Her the kiss is what sells the image and it in no small part reminds me of another equally arousing (though non-pornographic) photograph by Lina Scheynius.