Terry SmithCory on the rooftop of LeStat’s here in San Diego, California (2006)

This isn’t an image you’d ever claim was ‘good’; the focus is soft, the pose is awkward given the composition (or the composition is awkward given the pose–flip a coin) and although it’s less frequently imposed in creating male nudes, this orientation is inherently tied up in an art historical tendency of the body as object, i.e. the dominant eye standing above a supine figure.

All that being said, it is interesting because everything I just finished criticizing is what ultimately makes the image interesting–the soft focus causes the the boy’s skin to stand out against the filthy rooftop, the pose is neither full passive nor entirely active (due to the right leg being elevated off the ground and the objectification is clearly a primary impetus for the picture’s creation.

Also, I’m taken with this because while I’ve never been to LeStat’s, several of my friends do frequent it and speak fondly of the place.

Rosie Brock – [↖] Untitled from Lily series (2015); [↗] Untitled from Bone, Flesh, Memory series (2015); [↙] Untitled from Lily series (2015); [↘] Untitled from Lily series (2015)

Two days ago, Canon released the results of a survey where 1004 people were asked about their image making. A preposterous 80% graded their skills as excellent.

There are a veritable litany of problems with the methodology of this survey. The most pertinent is asking people whose only training to be an image maker is likely owning a camera to self-critique is a little like administering a multiple choice test and instead of checking it against an answer key, instead grading the test take on how they feel they did.

Really, it’s great that we can talk about the democratization of image making. I mean these days virtually any cell phone comes with a built-in camera that is superior to any standalone device under $1000.

Further, anyone coming of age from the 70s onward, grew up immersed in a culture steeped in a preternatural awareness of the impact of lens based visual media.

If anything, one would expect given the wide availability of quality equipment and an awareness of form and function that might as well be ingrained at a cellular level, you’d expect more and better work.

The truth of the matter is: you’ve got more people with better equipment making far less inspired, interesting and urgent work now than at any time in the history of the medium.

What does this have to do with Brock? Well, their are scads of young women making work with similar, perhaps over-earnest examinations of what it is to be young, female and visible in a culture dominated by notions of male entitlement and rote sexualization of women and women’s bodies.

Some of it is very good but by and large the majority of it is poorly conceptualized, executed and presented.

Not so with Brock. Part of it, I suspect, is that she’s shooting on film–specifically with a Hasselblad 500CM. It’s not just that with the ubiquity of digital, she’s willing to blaze a more solitary trail, it’s also that there seems to be an awareness that the square format is particularly well suited to portraiture.

And that’s the other fascinating thing about the work–it borrows tropes and traditions from portraiture–but it’s as if her images manages this delicate mobile-esque structure where each part exists able to be examined both as a part and as a part of the whole; everything is in balance and the balance is what activates the photograph.

For example, Brock has a patience with light that I haven’t seen many photographers bother with. She favors illumination just slightly beyond the confines of golden hour. At 19 she possesses an impressive familiarity with both form and composition, shaming the majority of folks who’ve been doing this half their lifetimes.

She’s presenting singular, indelible images with a seeming effortlessness that I know from experience takes endless work and fearless dedication. If she continues on her current trajectory, she will almost certain be a force of goddamn nature within the next decade. Thoroughly excellent and exceptionally noteworthy.

Amandine KuhlmannCinq Sens [Five Senses] (2015)

The adage talent burrows, genius steals–most often attributed to Oscar Wilde–actually originates from T. S. Eliot:

Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal;
bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something
better, or at least something different.

There’s zero question that Kuhlmann is stealing with this series. The color palate, poses and timing might as well be verbatim visual quotes from the posters for master provocateur Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac.

I won’t argue that these images are better than the posters. If nothing else, the posters almost certainly required a team of creatives and tens of thousands of dollars to produce. They are more dynamic, dimensional and artfully constructed.

But Eliot doesn’t imply that the only justification for theft is that you make something better–making something that is at least different is also an option.

Kuhlmann succeeds admirably in that regard by focusing on little tics–scratches, broken blood vessels under the skin, a silvered thread of spit suspending bubble of saliva above a mouth open in an orgasmic gasp, hair clinging to sweat slick skin.

Looking at these makes me realize that although the Nymphomaniac posters are technically superior–they could have been much more impactful if those responsible for creating them had been more attentive to such seemingly mundane details.

Igor PjörrtDying Star (2015)

My first thought is how this is riffing on Lina Scheynius.

And I say riffing on as opposed to ripping off with intent–the distinction is the same as the difference between stealing like an artist and mere mimicry.

Where Scheynius is interested in documenting light specifically and this frequently manifests as attention to the relationship of light to her body, self-portraiture is less destination than familiar landmark along the pathway.

Pjörrt, on the other hand, seems from the outset more interested in portraiture. Light, or more correctly low-light, does figure prominently in his work–and you should seriously browse his archive because the way he uses minimal ambient light is exquisitely masterful.

The only criticism I have is the erotic works tends to diminish the formal considerations of the more cinematic images by adopting awkwardly, contrived poses. Consider this self-conscious tangle of bodies vs a more legible and evocative image which retains a sense of oddity about the mechanics of how the body’s relate to one another.

Source unknown – Title unknown (201X)

When an image is founded upon a solid idea, it’ll with stand a great deal in the way of poor execution without losing efficacy.

This is total #skinnyframebullshit and the production design was clearly meant to be Botticelli-esque but ends up looking half-assed. Further, even though equipment limitations probably resulted in both boys being decapitated by the frame and I’m guessing preserving anonymity was important, lopping off their heads is just ugly.

What I like is the intimacy of it even though it is very much in public. But what really flows like an electrical current through this image is the way they are both almost grasping each other. :::shivers:::

Source unknown – Title Unknown (20XX)

This could almost be a frame from Ryan McGinley’s Yearbook–same colored paper backdrop and a single studio light.

Unlike McGinley, however, this lacks the grimy, bleaching grain and the body objectification is way too unsubtle.

I like it–which is saying something because I have a strong bias against studio photography.

Explaining what I like about it is going to be a bit of a minefield because the things I like exist–moreover are facilitated–by being in tension with things that are hell of problematic.

For example, I dig the single, angled overhead light. It contributes to a pleasant peach skintone that’s just on the realistic side of hyper-stylization. Conversely, it also accentuates the oddity of the pose–the model has his back arched, his stomach sucked in and three-quarters of his ass is held just off the ground by his left leg.

I love that the texture of his scrotum borders on the synesthetic–sight as touch spectrum…but it is kind of disturbing that the rest of his body is so plastic-like (which could be the lighting, but is most-likely indicative of a Canon full frame camera).

The pose in tandem with the eye contact and the fact that the right frame edge amputates both the boys legs makes me uncomfortable. It’s like trying to interpret mixed signals. On the one hand this image seemingly goes out of its way to be respectful in its depiction; on the other, it’s still entirely prurient.

I feel like if the boy had an erection at least the impetus for the image and the image itself would be more in line. Hell, it’d almost even be even better if the boy had just masturbated to orgasm and made a cummy mess of his chest and tummy.

Source unknown – Title Unknown (19XX)

By Marie Howe
I want to write a love poem for the girls I kissed in seventh grade,
a song for what we did on the floor in the basement
of somebody’s parents’ house, a hymn for what we didn’t say but thought:
That feels good or I like that, when we learned how to open each other’s mouths
how to move our tongues to make somebody moan. We called it practicing, and
one was the boy, and we paired off—maybe six or eight girls—and turned out
the lights and kissed and kissed until we were stoned on kisses, and lifted our
nightgowns or let the straps drop, and, Now you be the boy:
concrete floor, sleeping bag or couch, playroom, game room, train room, laundry.
Linda’s basement was like a boat with booths and portholes
instead of windows. Gloria’s father had a bar downstairs with stools that spun,
plush carpeting. We kissed each other’s throats.
We sucked each other’s breasts, and we left marks, and never spoke of it upstairs
outdoors, in daylight, not once. We did it, and it was
practicing, and slept, sprawled so our legs still locked or crossed, a hand still lost
in someone’s hair … and we grew up and hardly mentioned who
the first kiss really was—a girl like us, still sticky with moisturizer we’d
shared in the bathroom. I want to write a song
for that thick silence in the dark, and the first pure thrill of unreluctant desire,
just before we’d made ourselves stop.