Man RaySelf Portrait with Dead Nude (1930)

Excluding the eleven years he lived in Hollywood to wait out the Second World War, Man Ray was an American artist living in Paris.

He moved in the same circles as Picasso and the two were well acquainted. I mention this–less to try to suggest any stylistic overlap in their oeuvres and more to distinguish between the degrees of overt sexism in their respective work.

By now, you’ve probably already seen Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix comedy special Nanette. If not, you should put a pin in this and go watch it now. (It’s exceptional on virtually every level imaginable but it’s act to is a brilliant riff on art history–specifically Picasso.)

Gadsby notes that Picasso offered this perspective on how he felt about women after breaking up with him:

Each time I leave a woman, I should burn her. Destroy the woman, you destroy the past she represents.

“Cool guy,” she follows up.

This isn’t even close to the worst shit Picasso pulled. But in so many ways, Picasso was a colossal, inexcusable and monstrous misogynist. Yet, much of his latent sexism is just as visible in other works of the time. This, for example: not only continues the art historical tradition of presenting female bodies in only specifically proscribed poses.

For example: Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, no. 2 was rejected from the 1912 Salon de Indépendants with the following note:

A nude never descends the stairs–a nude reclines.

(This anecdote was brought to my attention by PBS Digital Studios’ The Art Assignment’s The Case for Nuditywhich is a bit uneven but by and large worth keeping up with.)

In Man Ray’s photo above, the nude is once again reclining. She’s portrayed as dead–a chest wound ostensibly bleeding out onto the bed.

The photo is indicated as a self-portrait (and in that identification the identity of the artist is reaffirmed while the woman is little more than a placeholder) and it’s uncertain whether Man Ray found her already dead and then felt the need to embrace her one last time (a necrophiliac connotation) or perhaps he killed her and is now grieving her demise (a vampiric connotation).

Neither of these are particularly encouraging interpretations with regards to inherent sexism. However, whereas Picasso uses stylistics to bend, break and otherwise deface women in his work, there’s an honesty about what Man Ray is doing here that–while it does not absolve it of fault, it at least self-implicates the relationship between the author and the problematics.

For example: I read this now as a sort of inverted pieta. This in turn invites a reading of the manic pixie dream girl narrative–that, unfortunately, still exists. Also, you don’t have to stretch it very far to push this into feminist criticism territory–the way that men seek in female bodies, some semblance of salvation. (I’d argue that this lines up especially well with the history of pieta as religious symbol and the way modern pietas interrogate the problematics of Xtian history and the way the form is now moving towards being a trend welcoming of appropriation by sensualist humanists.

Kiele Twarowski Untitled from Genesis (201X)

There’s something disorienting about the way this image fits together.

At the outset, there is a focus on the subject. The skin tone is stylized–it skews  a bit too red in the shadows, decidedly too yellow in the highlight; however, the overall effect contributes a sense of mid-to-late spring/early summer.

I am reasonably confident that this was made by propping a smart phone against a shampoo bottle on top of a closed toilet let. Twarowski is sitting with her back more or less against the tub. (Also, there’s likely been some in phone editing of the image–I’d guess that the divergence in skin tone was likely in service of creating a sense of depth and separation between her face/shoulders and the shower curtain behind her.)

I am curious about the 22 and presumable 23 tattoos on her outer biceps. But more than that I find myself entirely wrong footed by her website and the way it preserves a notion of personal vs. professional work–in this case the distinction is between ‘diary’ and ‘work’.

The ‘work’ section is… well, it looks like someone who is trying to make their approach to image making appear commercially viable. (As I’ve mentioned recently: I’m not convinced this is ever a productive approach.)

Now, hope over to the ‘diary’ section; see the difference–there’s a shimmering and vital intensity to the more personal work that is utterly lacking in the professional reckoning.

Is this something emerging from training or is it fallout from the belief that something is productive only insofar as it is saleable?

Also, I’m dubious about this notion that photography/image making works best with this sort of additive approach. Where an artist sets out to make work which fits within a specific conceptual niche–essentially building a body of work to fit a prerequisite schema. I personally think it’s better to put in the time making the work that interests you and then approach it in more of a subtractive, freeing the form trapped within the mass of work.

caitiborruso:

writing end of year blog post, feeling funny and sad sort of, grateful for this picture of me from May ish

Caiti BorrusoSelf Portrait (2017)

I’m intrigued by Borruso’s work.

It feels to me like there’s substantial overlap with both Mark Steinmetz (careful control of contrast to enliven drama and emphasize tone).

There’s also a similar haunted, elegiac tone to the work of someone like Allison Barnes.

(This photo–presumably of Borruso’s best friend, were it an orphan work is one that could be thought to have been made by Steinmetz or Barnes, actually.)

Her more conventional ‘landscape’ work reminds me of Sarah Muehlbauer; compare this exquisite photo of an open gate by Borruso with this picture of dumpster in Queens by Muehlbauer.

I actually adore the way Borruso sees landscapes. I see landscapes in much the same way she photographs them–but I’ve found in my own work that when I see something in the landscape that interests me, I get the slides back and think why did I fucking take a picture of that? That’s not how it is with her–you know why she took the picture. (Whether or not it always works is another story but from the standpoint of light and form, it’s there clearly demonstrated in the work.)

But what impresses me the most about her work is the way that when she combines her sense of location with unselfconscious presentation of those she photographs–including herself–there is often a sense that her subjects are almost like aliens in their environment. They always look like they belong there but there’s always something searching in their expression. As if they know why they are where they are and how the are expected to act but they’re caught in a moment of wondering if maybe that’s not the way things really are or even should be.

I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It’s incredibly impressive.

Marie Tomanova – [↖] By the Waterfalls (2016); [↗] Green Tenderness (2015); [↓] Untitled (2016)

The Museum of Sex here in NYC (as opposed to the one in Amsterdam and there may be more I don’t know about) is running an exhibit called NSFW: Female Gaze.

I’m not a fan of the venue or the current bandwagon curatorial trend otherwise known as ‘the Female Gaze’–it’s generally preposterous (at best) and mistakes inversion for subversion (at worst); also, the people who actually go out of their way to embrace the notion pretty much to a one make godawful work. (However, like the term ‘post-rock’–which operates similarly: a pretty reliable shortcut to some great music when you weed out the bands who refer to themselves as post-rockers and focus on the bands who eschew the distinction.)

(And to be clear–I don’t object to women who are photographers. This blog strives to favor women photographers and image makers in such a fashion that 60% of the posts are created by women; what I object to is the idea that we can correct for the art historical problematics of the male gaze through nothing more than paying lip service to more diverse representation without actually acknowledging a multiplicity of factors beyond just male photographer vs female photographer….)

What appeals to me about Tomanova is the quality of her work. She’s working with a Canon dSLR and a hotshoe flash. Yeah, I know… her results are pretty incredible.

But in the video trailer for the exhibit, she mentions that her motivating notion is the idea of “how nude is too nude?”

It’s an interesting question. (That is supported by her work, incidentally.)

The other thing I notice from her video is that her way of working is much more unrushed. As someone who is also interested in notions of public vs private and nudity, I have to say that I find her process fascinating. Usually, if you’re shooting nudes in public, you set up the shot, strip and get the shot as quickly as possible–so that you can get dressed again before anyone stumbles upon the scene uninvited.

You get the feeling Tomanova sets the camera up, gets undressed and then experiments. Trying out a bunch of different poses and frames before getting dressed again and breaking things down to move on.

There’s something very audacious about her work. (I would LOVE to be able to work that way, honestly. It’s not that I’m worried about people sneaking up on me while I’m naked and more what happens as a result of someone potentially stumbling upon me…)

I recall how Szarkowski divided fine art photography into two parts: mirrors and windows. I’ve never really agreed 100% with him but I do at least see the utility of his taxonomy. It strikes me that there’s another dichotomy in photography: reproduction vs discovery.

Reproduction would be where you have a very clear picture in you rmind of something you want to make into a photographer or image whereas discovery is more organic, you don’t know what you want but you are aware that you’ll know what you’re looking for when you see it.

I think the best work does both at the same time. But I think Tomanova is decidedly in the discovery camp. And honestly I think if it’s a choice between the two, I’ll take discover over reproduction any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Diana Bodea#1 The Shadow from Touched by light series (2008)

Looking at this my first response isn’t to pedantically point out that it features backlighting.

As I am sitting here struggling to wrap my head around how to write about it, I am uncertain where else I might start.

See the problem isn’t noticing it’s backlit; the problem is focusing on the backlighting emphasizes technique over a more organic handling of the unity between concept and execution.

And what I want to talk about has more to do with the dynamics between the technical and the conceptual in this photograph.

Two days ago, Amandine spent a lovely day sharing time and space as well as practice our respective crafts–me trying to capture the interplay between color and fog along the coast, her drawing and painting dunes, people walking in the distance and the subtly variegated beach grasses.

Driving back we were talking about music. She asked me what I thought of Joanna Newsom. I said I had liked The Milk Eyed Mender. Then back-tracked that I was only really familiar enough with the track Sadie–which I adore.

My ex hated both Björk and Newsom because of their eccentric vocalizations. I felt the same way about the former–at least initially (she’s subsequently become one of my all-time favorite artists) but I wasn’t familiar enough with Newsom, so I sort of missed her work.

Amandine was telling me about how amazing she was and how I really should check her out. But she offered a caveat that one of her favorite of Newsom’s songs contains a mistake.

See the song Emily contains the following lyrics:

That the meteorite is a source of the light
And the meteor’s just what we see
And the meteoroid is a stone that’s devoid of the fire that propelled it to thee

And the meteorite’s just what causes the light
And the meteor’s how it’s perceived
And the meteoroid’s a bone thrown from the void
That lies quiet and offering to thee

She has it backwards, Amandine insisted. I mean it’s poetic and beautiful and brilliant but it’s the other way around, really.

I don’t know enough about it to comment but I do know–subsequently having listened to the album it’s on several times–it doesn’t matter, I don’t think.

Like maybe she created the lyrics based on being told it the wrong way around–which contributes to the meaning of the song, actually. Or it’s a John Donne-esque metaphysical metaphor of the soul–which again, contributes to the song. Or, it’s a rejection of science–again, something that fits with the song.

Whether it’s right or wrong, it works. And that’s kind of a rare and wonderful thing.

But it occurs to me that backlighting is the wrong thing to focus on in the photo about for the same reason it’s a mistake to get caught up in whether the rhyme about the difference between meteors and meteorites is right or wrong.

When I used to teach lighting workshops I would show kids how to set up a quick and dirty three point lighting setup. I’d explain that this is the key light, this is the fill light and this is the back/rim light. I’d then show them what each looked like independent of the others.

I’d then turn all the lights back on and explain the rationale behind this setup–it’s a stylization of how we experience light in the world around us. Like: if I’m standing in a field facing a camera and the lighting is behind the sun is behind the camera relative to my position–unless it’s straight on (a poor strategy if you’re trying for an aesthetically pleasing image because the light is too bright and people naturally squint when the light is in their eyes), then there’s one side that is incrementally brighter than the other. So natural light presents with a key and a fill light.

But light also falls on the ground behind where I am standing in said field. Yet, that light is like the fill light except it reflects enough light back towards the camera that because the body separates the light reflecting off the ground from the camera, it contributes a dimensionality to my body.

The point is–what we see we see only in relation to the way light interacts with it. The only source of light in this is presumably the window behind the shower curtain and the subject.

It’s interesting that backlighting combined with other lighting contributes dimensionality–yet we normally think of backlighting in terms of silhouetting. There’s a surprising amount of dimensionality in this. That’s partly due to the one point perspective imposed by the tile.

But the visibility of the mirror and the reflection of the hand, as well as the white sink gives a stark solidity to the image.

It’s a mistake to say: this is backlit and then just leave it at that because it’s how it’s backlit (how this is used formally and contextually to foster a sense of dynamic unity to between generally opposing elements).

An exquisitely refined work. Impressive and thoroughly unforgettable.

Source unknown – Title unknown (201X)

This is not a good image. It’s a victim of shitting lighting in a small bathroom and being taken on a front facing camera phone propped up against a soap dispenser or tooth brush caddy. (I wouldn’t say it’s #skinnyframebullshit, however.)

But there’s something that ought to be a greater concern than whether or not an image is good. This is poignant and brave and because of those two things it’s also true and alive in a way that few things in life are.

Or to put it another way: this goes a lot deeper than your usual camera phone in front of the mirror in a state of provocative dress or undress, that have become de rigeur among mid-to-late teens and twenty somethings. It says I wasn’t sure I wanted to know but I decided that not knowing was worse than knowing. (If there’s a prerequisite for being an artist, it’s probably that.)

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Emily WhiteUntitled (2016)

My life is so weird sometimes and the truth is I don’t even really think about it. It’s sort of like stepping onto a scale to check your weight everyday. If you do it–which I don’t recommend–then any weight loss or gain is gradual. You don’t think you’re making any progress, even though (over time) you are. (Similarly, when someone sees you in person and you haven’t seen them in a while and they’re like, gurl, you’re hair has grown so long! And you’re like, oh yeah, I guess it has… I see it every day so I lose track.)

(Bear with me, I’m taking the scenic route back to the above image.)

In the weird thing that is my big gay life I’m actually internet friends with my favorite photographer. Mostly she shares pictures of her adorbs daughter, we kvetch about sexist men/how much bullshit this patriarchal society is, etc. She’ll remind me that I still need to see that Diane Arbus documentary she’s been recommending to me for months. I make sure she doesn’t miss new Björk videos when they drop–we both are perpetually stumped on the question of whether we want to be Björk or be with her…

Anyway, I showed her Emily White’s work and overall she was underwhelmed/dismissive. We’re usually so in sync–it was strange to have such differing perspectives.

One of the things I’ve always been adept at is explaining why I appreciate something. It’s rare that I’m ever going to say: I don’t know why, I just love it. I can usually give you half a dozen extremely concrete reasons even if you put me on the spot about it.

With White–for example: there’s a sense of narrativity. A bit like Lauren Withrow–whose aesthetic I dig but the impetus in her work is always so unequivocally narrative driven that I often fell that the work is more aspirational than accomplished. Like it’s open ended. Withrow cultivates a young, haute and rebellious cast of characters because she’s hoping that the people she’s making her work for will relate and sort of super impose their experience and expectations upon the characters in an effort to relate to what they are seeing.

It’s a narrative tact. But is it a good one? I’m decidedly in the detractor camp. I have this idea that every story contains a moment where if that moment is photographed you can even though you only see a fraction of a second in time you can extend a cinematic timeline in your mind that reaches forward and backward. You can tell how you arrived here and discern a bit of what is going to happen next. It’s a bit like Cartier-Bresson’s decisive moment–which I’m also a detractor from: it’s all too fatalistic for me. I prefer the latitude for various interpretations in Vermeer’s decisive moments that use universal tropes and familiar experiential anchor points to suggest a tonally cohesive narrative arc with multiple potential readings.

Withrow’s characters are effectively cardboard cutouts for what she feels are her audiences projections. Therefore it’s only narrative post-active engagement by the viewer. Whereas Vermeer is narrative to start.

Back to White: I find her work audacious because whether it intends to or not it presents a critique of both Withrow and Vermeer’s implementation. Intentional ambiguity and a range of universal and certain interpretations are replaced with uncertainty. (And I think there’s something that could be written on how she’s effectively deconstructing the Lynchian conflation of the surreal and the oneironautlical as interchangeable–they aren’t and shouldn’t be but Lynch has made a spectacular career out of playing fast and loose with the blurring of those boundaries.)

In her work, we know how we got up to the point in time we are asked to bear witness to. How? Well, if you’ve followed Deviant Art and Flickr famous young women photographers–the angst, alienation and efforts to exercise individual autonomy all resound. But what makes the work effect is that it avoids the ubiquitous exhibitionism for something that reminds me of something I read recently in a novel titled Black Mad Wheel (the second novel from Josh Malerman who wrote the incredible Bird Box–which I highly recommend; BMW, is largely and unfortunately execrable.)

Some cultures believe that when you take a photo, you’re saying this period, this phase, is over with, [s]o if you enjoy your life as it is, mourn.. Because now it will be as it was.

There’s this weird way that White’s images are cut off from the history which clearly informs their construction. And although there is not a sense within the image of anything sinister, the prevailing feeling of uncertainty with regards to where things go from here contribute both a beauty and terror to the bodies she trains her lens upon.

White’s work is–I’ll concede to my friend–not yet fully formed. And it does suffer from nearly a decade of angsty undergrad grrrl art. But if you can look past that, there is something ridiculous precocious in her work. Also, it’s nuttier than squirrel shit and probably has more to do with her going to a WASPy liberal arts college, but I swear to fucking Christ that I’ve been to several of the locations she’s uses in her more recent work. I know I haven’t but the sense of familiarity is utterly unnerving–and I like it very much, that feeling…

Yulia GorodinskiTitles unknown (201X)

Remember when Flickr was the primary hotbed of up-and-coming photo and image making talent? Well, the first wave of that milieu crested in what–early to mid-2006, if memory serves.

At the time, Gorodinski was studying History and English literature in Tel Aviv. Originally of Belorussian extraction, her family immigrated to Israel when she was 12.

She joined flick in the post-first wave low-tide around 2007 and built a reputation for the sumptuous color invigorating already dynamically composed, narratively insinuative frames.

By 2010, she was a fixture of the Flickr second wave–gaining the attention of Dazed. (Virtually everything written about her after that point–leans heavily on the content of this interview.)

It’s still possible to see a good chunk of her work–a Google search turns up a lot of them. A Tumblr search adds some other exquisite samples of her work. However, as far as I can tell, Gorodinski no longer circulates this work herself. (I won’t pretend to speculate as to the motivations for this…)

It would seem that she does still make images. The above attribution links to a Tumblr that shares a few images indicative that it is the same Yulia Gorodinski. The new work is more mannered, patient and quotidian. It’s not bad–still definitely artful. But I do have to say that I miss the dizzying audacity of these self-portraits.

I think there’s an argument to be made that although she would probably wisely resist such a label, I think you could argue that the problematic term “the female gaze” could be well applied to her work.

Honestly, though beyond the fact that her work insists upon the profusion of color it present (that should not be diminished since so few photographers and image makers treat color as anything more than a binary that contributes to a better meshing between the conceptual and compositional, meditation on the nature of how color affects perception and reaction to such perception being so intrinsic to these images), there’s also something else very special about these: an imagistic totality.

As someone who is ostensibly fixated on both the tradition of staffage and cinematic/narrative photography & image making, the line between a landscape with figures in it (a more painterly affectation) and something that seems more suggestive of composition through post-production layering–i.e. shooting someone in front of a green screen–it’s not always easy to pull off work like Gorodinski’s.

That she does it at all is impressive but that she does it so flipping well, so frequently is even more awe-inducing. This is impressive stuff and while I don’t feel as strongly about her more recent work, I am curious to see what her newfound restraint would contribute if she returned to a similar approach again. I suspect it would probably be the sort of thing that would make me feel like I needed to sell all my gear and leave the photo game to the real pros.

Mathilda EberhardUntitled (2013)

Eberhard has two Flickr accounts: one attributed to Anna Mathilda Eberhard started in 2009 and second attributed to Mathilda Eberhard started in 2010.

The first account is a scattershot of self-portraits (some barely legible, others jaw-droppingly acute in their deeply felt intensity and pathos) and just the right amount of savoir faire so as to court transgression without seeming posturing or pretentious.

With this first foray into the world of sharing photos on social media, it’s hard to pinpoint any pervasive influence. Although I don’t suspect for a second that someone could produce such compelling images without some sort of broad familiarity with photo history.

One thing to note is that specific, salient facets of what would become Laura Makabresku’s hackneyed style are prefigured as if in template form by Eberhard’s early work.

There’s something more melancholic about the second account. Moments of sheer joy, intermingled with a sense of crushing, isolation, loneliness. A number of her pictures invoke in me nothing so much as the feeling of being sexual aroused but lacking the motivation to address that sensation by seeking out affection from another or to opt for the route of self-pleasure.

The work grows more searching, incisive. This, for example, is an image indelibly imprinted on my visual memory.

But then the work slowed and stopped. With the exception of a collaborative project called Wild Flower–intending to show “photos of naked bodies in everyday environments to show that all people have a body and no one else has the right to take it away [sexualize/objectify] from the individual.”

The most recent Wild Flower post dates from December of last year.

As much as a adore the work of established artists like Mark Steinmetz, Igor Mukhin, Allison Barnes, Prue Stent or Erica Shires, what really excites me is work like Eberhard’s or k.flight’s.

Every time I revisit such work, I’m taken in by a new detail, a wonderfully atypical way of seeing and representing the world.

Truthfully, I think Eberhard is actually probably third on my list of folks I most want to collaborate with. Despite it’s unevenness, there are very few image makers out there whose work has wormed its way so deep into my brain.

It’s probably a lost cause but does anyone out there reading this know Mathilda? Is she still making work? Could you perhaps put me in touch with her?

Rachel BanksVenus from seasons change and so do you series (2014)

Back in the late-90s, I went to a job fair for a big chain bookstore–now long defunct. I interviewed for a position and was fascinated by the questions the interviewers asked. It wasn’t the usual corporate boiler plate–tell me a challenge you faced when you worked at X, how you handled it and how in hindsight you could’ve improved your handling of the situation?

Instead, they asked my favorite book, movie, album. It was all stuff I was more than ready to provide an answer for until the progression turned to this strange sort of abstract free association where I was asked to respond to various prompts with one word.

I remember one prompt was how would you describe yourself. I answered: ‘observant’. But I cheated. I was supposed to say the first word that came to mind. The actual first word was ‘insular’.

‘Insular’ is one of those words that has unfortunate connotations. It bears the patina of the same sort of associations as ‘isolationist’ in the context of geopolitical scenarios.

Yet, what I meant when I thought to label myself as ‘insular’ is a perfect corollary to Banks’ images.

Her frames are tightly curated. There’s a feeling that they teeter between the freedom that a certain level of restriction allows and a lurking claustrophobia.

There’s also an ephemeral-ness. As if the moment presented were a chance occurrence, a glimmer that was some how miraculously frozen in time.

For example: with the image above everything is staged, the hair over the face is arranged with a precision, the relationship between the top of her head and the top of the hedges. Yet, the fabric seems as if it is suspend on a line and an opportune gust of wind whipped out up and out of the way allowing an unblocked view of the subject.

(I love the details: the tattered fringe of the fabric, the billowing arc of it; the way her arms are pressed taught against her back rendering the body suit semi-sheer.)

I adore the way Banks presents her work. From seasons changes and so do you:

When I was very small, my father and I made a water slide that killed all of the grass in our front yard, but he never cared. Many years later I found myself being yelled at for leaving tire tracks from my first car in his front yard. There is a hole in the tree from my teenage home where boys used to leave me notes.

seasons change and so do you is a series of work about memory and the physical and emotional impressions that are left in the landscape and on the heart. As the landscape alters and blooms from the weather, other things die and shrivel away. I find that the always changing Texas terrain mimics the mechanism in which I create, distort, and store away memories of the past. This series was photographed in the Northern Region of Texas in locations that I drive by multiple times a day. This body of work is inspired by drastic changes in weather, metamorphosis and memories associated with seasons from the past.

Although it is too abstract and keyword-y to pass muster as an artist’s statement, there’s a way in which the text addresses something specific both explicitly and implicitly. A better way to put it might be that what is included–especially with the first paragraph–speaks equally if not more to things that were elided, excluded or obfuscated.

So while I don’t think it’s a good artist’s statement in the traditional sense, it compliments the work by accomplishing with text the same sort of lateral emotional resonance for which the images seem to strive.