Joan E. Biren AKA JEBMy Lover, My Feet (1978)

At first glance, this appears to be a symmetrical, center-weighted composition. However, as you look closer you begin to see that although the moulding is used as a frame within a frame device that there’s a larger margin between the right moulding and frame edge than there is on the left.

Additionally, the focal plane is closer to the wall on the left than it is on the right–indicated by the encroachment of the seam joining the wall to the ceiling that juts obliquely into the frame a third of the way from left to right. (This makes the mirror appears centered in the frame, even though it is not actually so if you take the time to measure it.)

But notice the positioning of the photographers feet as well as her lover’s body–not the angle of view puts the toes of her left foot closer to the body and the toes of her right foot (in addition to the angle of her instep being more open; also the body laying on the floor echoes that openness) conveys an awareness of the relationship between representation of space via reflection and 2D rendering.

It’s freaking ingenious. Every time I encounter a new photo JEB made I’m floored by how amazing her eye is.

Saul LeiterThe Young Violinist {Young nude on bed, reflected in mirrors} (195X)

If Leiter came up in conversation, I would probably think: Leiter? Leiter… mid-century American photographer, maybe?

In other words: I know little about him or his work. So little, in fact, that I don’t know whether the photo above is more authentic than the one I first encountered:

The landscape orientation is more even handed. (There’s a better exposure balance across the frame–pay close attention to the reflection of the bedside table and the detail in the subject’s coiffure; also: the sepia-like toning contributes a nostalgic softness that resonates with the content in a flattering fashion.)

The horizontal frame is noticeably less contrast-y, however; this additional contrast contributes to the skinny frame both a sense of solidity and dramatic immediacy.

Which variation is more effective?–Well, I’m going to surprise myself by bucking my own generaized antipathy towards #skinnyframebullshit and side with the the vertical orientation.

Why?

I think it’s better to start off with the fact that we are accustomed to conceptualizing the orientation of a frame in terms of portrait (vertical) vs landscape (horizontal). Usually, one of my objections to this is that it suggests too much of a paint by numbers approach to composition. What is the photographer/image maker trying to depict? Grace Hartzel? Portrait orientation. A scene in nature? Landscape.

It’s not that it’s bad advice, necessarily. It’s that it begins from an unconsidered assumption–and thus the basis of the composition is taken as given. (Also: considering that as far as I can tell the portrait vs. landscape dichotomy is largely a function of standardizing output that is then retroactively applied to the creation of the photo or image.

I think it’s better to make a decision with regard to orientation based organically on the scene at hand and what of it you want the viewer to see (and subsequently how you want an audience to see what you are showing them).

A vertical or portrait orientation is naturally predisposed to drawing the eye of the viewer up and down over the frame; whereas, a landscape or horizontal framing creates a side to side visual flow. (I haven’t actually tested this theory but I suspect that if you were to divide art history into works that are explicitly spiritual vs work that is secular. The former would favor vertical orientation and the latter would favor horizontal orientation by–I would guess–at least a 3:1 ratio (e.g. if x is the number of spiritual works that are vertical and y is the number of spiritual works that are horizontal, then X:Y).

In this case the sepia horizontal frame does a better job of moving the eye over the work. Unfortunately–and this is another of the issues I normally associate with #skinnyframebullshit: there’s a self-consciousness with regard to the composition. Like, yes–the eye does move over it better but in scanning it you are faced with questions of what sort of gravity is acting on this scene? Oh, wait: the photographer is fucking with perspective. OK, but to what end? And that’s where a common sense question begins to lead you down a path away from anything suggested by the work itself.

Additionally, the less-contrast-y sepia version doesn’t clarify anything pertaining to what is too close in the foreground to be in sharp focus. My eye tracks right and gets trapped in the mirror frame in the horizontal version.

The vertical version opens that up a bit and because my eye enters the frame from left to right and then drops, I find myself scanning the image up and down across the entirety of the composition instead of getting stuck on one facet.

Lastly, I feel it’s relevant to add–I am more than passingly irked by the use of ‘young’ in the title. I get that it’s a clever way of echoing the two reflections in the frame–reflections which are in themselves already doublings. It reminds me of the way that men tend to refer to women they find attractive as ‘girls’. I’m of a mind that when men do this it is always a red flag. But I’m especially attuned to this because I watched Hannah Gadby’s Nanette last week and it shook me. I suspect if you were to watch it and come back to this photo, you’d have a pretty good idea what I’m trying to get at. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how to articulate it yet so you’ll have to accept my inarticulate pointing for now.

Petter HegreAqua feat. Cleo (2015)

When it comes to Hegre and his ‘art’, I have mixed feelings.

One the one hand: no matter if it’s his artier forays (a la above) or his more pornographic stuff, he absolutely has a knack for carefully considered, subtly nuanced rendering of light–especially in terms of skintone.

The other hand? He has access to a stable of imaging gear far exceeding the inventory of most high end rental establishments. (For example: the images above were made using a PhaseOne IQ3 80MB medium format digital back–an item that likely set Hegre back $60K when he purchased it.)

I’m not going to hate on someone for having the wherewithal to invest in a camera that costs as much as a sports car. But more often than not I don’t see what that investment contributes to his work. For example: it’s not exactly ideal but there but there is more than a passing resemblance between these images of Cleo and Jock Sturges color work. (Yes, Sturges is working in 8×10 large format–thus there is again the issue of the preciousness of the equipment. Also, I think Sturges’ is probably a gold star pedophile and I think his efforts to sidestep this diminish his work. In the case of his B&W photos, they are–IMO–over-praised. However, his color work is not as easily shrugged off.)

Anyway, I was looking at the set from which I culled these images. (If you click the Aqua in the title, you can see the set 16 images of which these 4 are a part.)

Looking at all 16 images, it occurred to me that likely what bothers me about Hegre so much is his emphatic insistence that his work is art.

Now, if he means that his work exhibits technically accomplishment–that’s one thing. It’s rather another for him to hire a model, get her to disrobe and then take a bunch of pictures of her and then edit hundreds of photos down to a dozen or so of the best of the best.

Yet given the 16 images in this series, there’s not a great deal of consistency. The one vertical composition arguable has better tonality than the rest but it sticks out like a sore thumb. Also, the order in which the vertical composition is inserted actually distracts from the visual flow between images in the series. Further, the look at the camera ignore the camera on the part of the model is hell of indecisive. (Although, it occurred to me that although it is unlikely this was the intention: there is something about seeing vs not seeing that is highly erotic–i.e. when I am watching a lover body intersect with my own I may alternate between watch out bodies coming together to heighten the physicality of my arousal, however as arousal stretch ever closer to crescendo there grows a tension from which focus on visual stimulus may actually prove to be a distraction.)

It wasn’t easy to distill this series into a smaller grouping. I do think there are several of the images that could easily be dropped. There are several where the angle of her face is unflattering–but I suspect the image was kept because of the posture of her body. And I specifically dropped the one image that shows most clearly that Cleo is positioned in shallow water near a ledge where the water suddenly becomes deeper.

With this edit, it’s not so hard for me to concede that maybe Hegre isn’t as pretentious as a think of him as being. I mean if you sort of squint and take the sense of the portrait in the top left image, the sense of quiet reverie in the top right image, the sense of place in the lower left image and the sense of ethereal physicality in the lower right image–there is a fully formed and conceptually sophisticated single scene that suggests itself in the intersections between the images.

However, that I chose these images from a wider set and then ordered them in the fashion I did (which suggests something not unlike a narrative progression) is what it took for me to be able to see that.

Perhaps Hegre had something roughly analogous in mind. Or not. In all likelihood what he does requires a certain degree of open ended-ness in order to account for the various interests and appetites of the consumer. Really, I think that’s the crux of my frustration with Hegre: he could clearly produce more resonant and uncompromising work but he seems more interested in commercial viability. (Something which strikes me as a shame and a waste of talent.)

Alexei AvenDo It Yourself (2012)

This has been cropped from the original. On one hand this action removes an especially ostentatious watermark–on the other hand, the only reason to motivate such an action would be to try to amputate any connection to the author (a super shitty motivation).

It also diminishes the impact of the composition. The longer frame contributes a greater downward push to the way the eye scans the work–increasing the sense of her loneliness as well as emphasize the attention to texture–the floor, the mirror, her dress, etc.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen mirrors used quite this way and whether or not the intent was to present the examination of reflection in terms that are conceptually linked to putting together a puzzle, that’s the net result.

The murk suggests low the ambient lighting conditions weren’t especially good (the subject is lit from above and behind–I’d wager some sort of clerestory window type set up over her right shoulder.)

I’d fault it–if it weren’t so refreshing to see after scrolling through his 500px for seemingly forever to find this image and in the process passing scads of work that embodies everything I detest about modern image making. (For example: you know how some chefs who aren’t vegetarians but who are required to serve food to vegetarians seem to think that ‘fresh’ and ‘healthy’ are tastes? Well, fuck those guys. And fuck folks who seem to have missed the memo that ‘commercial’ and ‘expensive’ are not traits of actual fine art photography.

Joy Episalla – [↖] TV 7 {Houston} (2005-8); [↑] TV 1 {Naples} (1998-2005); [↗] TV 2 {Madrid} (2004-5); [←] TV 3 {London} (2004-5) [+] TV 5 {Orleans} (2006-16); [→] TV 4 {Barcelona} (2004-5); [↙] TV 6 {Buffalo} (2006-8); [↓] TV 8 {Chicago} (2007-8); [↘] TV 10 {Philadelphia} (2008-12); [all from TV series]

[W]hen you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.
–Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Aphorism 146

Ian ReidAmanda Marie & Molly Ace (2017)

There are about 15 different things about this image that leave me with questions. Foremost: yes, clearly the focus is what’s going on in the foreground but what I notice and what keeps claiming my attention is the reflection of the script tattoo across the Ace’s upper back.

Backing up: I didn’t know who any of the folks in this image were upon first encountering it. I knew I’d seen Ace before in an image by @vk-photography and another by @crosxsover. I followed model mayhem through a series of defunct Instagram aliases to an actual Twitter account back to an Instagram (linked above) that is–at the time of this writing–active.

All that was a bit more work than I was expecting just to you know offer proper attribution. However, then things really took an unexpected turn: as far as I can tell there’s not a picture anywhere that has the entirety of the tattoo visible and in sharp focus. (And let me just cut off any objections ahead–given the above resolution, which is the highest res version available… the ubiquitous police procedural motif of enhancing a digital image infinitely just doesn’t work here.)

So then I pulled out a fine tooth comb and went through the pictures I could find. The bit on the right shoulder is easy enough–there are several snaps with it in sharp focus. It reads: ‘these been’

Also the script on the other shoulder is relatively clear in a couple of shots: ‘Quid a’

The middle of it is the problem. In one picture you can make out ‘insolitus’ and something that I’m pretty sure is ‘trinus’.  In another shot at another angle it’s Quid a p-something?

By using Google and Google translate to attempt to reverse engineer something I realized that there is a fish called the Mangarahara cichlid, or Ptychochromis insolitus. They are critically endangered and were thought to be on the verge of extinction when one at the Berlin Zoo was killed while attempting to mate. Later, a small school was discovered in the wild.

Looking back though it’s definitely ‘quid a p(o- or e-something) so no dice on an elaborate Douglas Adams joke.

Best I can tell it reads ‘Quid a po-(something illegible) insolitus trinus is these been’

It’s weird because ‘is these been’ is not Latin. The rest is more or less a way of saying ‘what a long strange trip its been’ but in a way that is not the standard way of translating the Grateful Dead title into Latin–so I suspect there’s some kind of pun I’m too dumb to understand.

Anyway, this was not the direction I wanted to go with this post. I’d originally intended to find out what the tattoo said and then use one of those online tools that mirrors text so that you can post text backwards and just post that.

But I guess now you’ve at least got a wacky story to go along with a really goddamn interesting picture.