Haute gender non-conformity FTW.
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And despite being in color this bears none of Hamilton’s idyllic, dreamy soft focus.
The large-format aspect ratio points to Sturges despite the fact that he works almost exclusively in B&W.
Also, I am pretty familiar with his work and I cannot recall an instance where the subject whose eyes were wide open was this close to the camera without staring directly into the lens.
Further, although Sturges favors vertical compositions to echo the people standing within his frames, this vertical orientation is skillfully contrapuntal, delicately diminishing the horizontal force of the pose by balancing the negative space in the doorway against the blue wooden slats.
All in all, this contains altogether more calculation than I expect from Sturges’ knee-jerk fine art-photographer-as-gilded-voyeur routine.
But it’s the un-self-conscious mien of the model—who, although nude, appears not as a sexualized object so much as a spectrum of being that includes the possibility of sexuality. Such presence in both one’s own skin and a moment has a definite parallel with Sally Mann’s wonderful Immediate Family.
I endlessly bitch about lackadaisical composition so here’s an example of a photograph with fucking impeccable composition to balance things out a bit.
A loose rule of thirds is at work here. The young woman ostensibly nude modeling for a life drawing class stands inside the central-vertical third of the frame while the central-horizontal third of the frame starts at the top of the standing man’s head in the left foreground painting and extends to somewhere between echoed elbows of the two young women—one sketching, one sitting—in the right-hand mid-ground.
To the right of the standing man in the foreground and seated young woman there is a break the guides the eye toward the center of the frame; everything in the center, however, is stationed just inside the third-lines. This has the effect of pushing the viewer’s gaze outward.
What is fascinating is how that outward tension is then countered by the fact that all the eyes in the room are on the model—which immediately draws the eye back to her. Also, Cazneaux strategically positions the pencil held by the seated sketching woman toward the model’s mons pubis.
Unlikely everyone else, whose attention is focused on her, the model seems to be aware of the camera, facing it directly with head bowed and hands raised to cover her face.
One might say something about the constant framing and reframing the eye does on the fly when confronted with this photo. More interesting, perhaps, is the way the composition both insists on itself at the same time it cancels itself out.
Truth be told, there is never an instance in everyday life where a group of people could stand so picturesquely without direction. Thus, the image is inherently stylized. But it does not appear that way—and appears instead an authentic glimpse into an art lesson.
Victor Hori offers one of the best commentaries on the purpose of the question:
…in the beginning a monk first thinks a kōan is an inert object upon which to focus attention; after a long period of consecutive repetition, one realizes that the kōan is also a dynamic activity, the very activity of seeking an answer to the kōan. The kōan is both the object being sought and the relentless seeking itself. In a kōan, the self sees the self not directly but under the guise of the kōan… When one realizes (“makes real”) this identity, then two hands have become one. The practitioner becomes the kōan that he or she is trying to understand. That is the sound of one hand.
Is it me or is there something almost post-coital about the way this feels to the eye—towel-wrapped, shower-wet hair and still damp skin sheathed in afterglow and diaphanous light?
In spite of being digital, I wish this were an image I had made. It exemplifies so many imagistic attributes I hold dear:·
All that is missing is a narrative seed, one moment suggesting what came before and what follows. But this is more of a tone poem, it would seem.
Tone poems, though, are slippery as eel skin. And there is a tendency to use them as an excuse for untouched inconsistencies.
For example, the framing here pans the camera slightly right to ensure the golden light on her back appears reflected in the mirror; this wawker-jawing complicated by the extreme wide angle is nearly balanced out by the uneven curtain rod’s counter-angle—keyword: nearly.
Also, her pose is odd. It is clearly staged but she holds it in such an unself-conscious way that it from avoids appearing contrived.
These inconsistencies cut both ways: justifying the unresolved aspects as endemic to the work is what makes it great; it is also what keeps it from being truly exceptional due to such justification obfuscating the implicit awareness the image provides of viewing something up to a terminal point—the snapping of the shutter—and then being left with little except the technical inconsistencies to ponder for clues that simply don’t exist.
Is not the most erotic portion of a body where the garment gapes? In perversion (which is the realm of textual pleasure) there are no “erogenous zones” (a foolish expression, besides); it is intermittence, as the psychoanalysis has so rightly stated, which is erotic: the intermittence of skin flashing between two articles of clothing (trousers and sweater), between two edges (the open-necked shirt, the glove and the sleeve); it is this flash itself which seduces, or rather: the staging of an appearance-as-disappearance (Barthes, pg. 9-10).
Perhaps it’s the introversion suggested by the huddled pose or the comely skin. My eye—wishing it was a tongue—darts and circles the erect left nipple.
But the wetness of wanting is thwarted by the shallow depth of field which pushes my gaze away over oceans of cream floating morning glories, wilds rose and springs of red baby’s breath before being pulled back again over small breasts and pale skin to sunlit shoulders and long strands of red silk hair.
And in this seeing I have an honest-to-goodness itty-bitty petit mort every time I glance at this picture.
No, it’s closer to a lover shifting slightly and the movement sending cascades of shivers outward through the ebbing pulsing of orgasmic spasms.
A feeling not unlike the memory of pixie with snow white skin, wire straight, carbon black hair and mischievous eyes wider than miles of un-translated manga: I gazed as she reached across the table, her motion pulling the lower edge of her too-small t-shirt away from the waist of her too-large belted jeans. Thinner than a rail, the ridges of her spine led my eyes down to the orange on purple Victoria’s Secret underwear.
But the headless woman does have anonymity. And where this previous implied women as little more than fodder for men’s sexual appetites, it now is put into service in order to facilitate the open expression of a sexual identity from behind the safety of a mask.
To be clear, I think that’s awesome; but like all awesome things, it is not without its problems. In this case, the line between anonymous expression and exhibitionism is razor thin at best. What is presented as artful and considered frequently suffers as a result of compositional inconsistencies necessitated by the requirement for anonymity.
This beautiful photograph is one of the few that manages to be rigorously consistent in its composition while also employing the frame edge as a means of masking idenity. A slight shift in perspective, however, would have almost certainly transformed it into something either nakedly exhibitionist or visually impoverished.
It for that reason I think most photo dabblers would do well to borrow from the book of Bellocq’s brother by making a thoughtful image first and then blacking out faces and identifying features later.
When printing something one is given two options: portrait or landscape.
As best I can tell this is a vestige of painting: vertically oriented images were favored for portraits while horizontal frames lent themselves to the panorama of landscapes.
Although arguably more of an unconscious convention in painting, this logic has been actively internalized by photographers and virtually enshrined by digital image makers.
The trouble is two-fold: the logic of photography is not interchangeable with the rules and precepts of painting (no matter how the latter interpenetrates the former). When applied to each other, these conventions produce schizoid, contradictory compositions.
Photography—and by dint digital imaging which however misguided is based upon it—has internalized the landscape orientation. Unlike painting, I do not think this internalization has been unconscious—after all, if you have ever looked at a strip of 35mm film on a light-table there is an easy-to-see bias towards horizontal framing. (I am so accustomed to this that when I encounter vertical compositions now, I tend to tilt my head sideways when looking at them.)
Portrait orientation is not without its uses in photography and digital imaging. Unfortunately, it more often than not contributes very little to the compositional ‘sense’ of an image; serving expedience by quickly fitting the subject to the frame—instead of forcing the image maker to contemplate the discontinuity between the subject/frame and subsequently address it in a more artful manner.
The above has almost certain been cropped.
But I would wager its orientation was originally vertical. (The individual responsible for the image contacted me with assurances that the image was originally horizontal but was cropped to accentuate the vertical.) And although I think horizontal framing would have worked better (EDIT: Having seen a sample of the original image, it is better), I will admit that unlike the vast majority of portrait orientations, the image maker is clearly aware of the manner in which the shift affects how the image is seen.
The frame echoes the subject’s form. On its own, that is the worst of lazy justifications; however, in this case the poses, the simple line work of what I find to be one of the sexiest tattoos I have ever seen and the narrowed view work as a visual approximation of the feeling one gets from indulging in a much needed stretch.
Further, the portrait orientation allowed the photographer to be closer to the model, lending a sense of heightened intimacy while also preserving anonymity.
Finally, I would be remiss not to admit a large part of my reason for posting this is the model’s unnerving resemblance to someone upon whom I currently have a maddening crush.
Artfully depicting masturbation is not an easy feat.
The act is private, sequestered. Thus, the question of how one came to be able to witness such goings on becomes a central—is it voyeurism, exhibitionism or a bit of both?
The more voyeuristic the image, the less intentional it appears and the more it relies upon the reputation of the image maker to supplement its ‘artistic’ merit.
The more exhibitionist the image, the less artful it appears. Exhibitionism being rooted in self-consciousness; the efficacy of the work of art being so frequently measured on its ability to dissolve notions of self and other.
These clips of a larger piece suggest an altogether ingenuous way of subverting this dichotomy: fuck with the distinction between subject and object. What’s the easiest way to do that? Point the camera at a mirror. (And I do not mean any of this teen-girl-shooting-her-reflection-in-the-bathroom-mirror Tumblr noise. I fucking HATE that shit!)
Now, I will not for a second argue that she is unaware of the camera—I am almost certain she is. But is she looking at it or looking at herself in the mirror? This becomes about the spectator watching her watch herself cause and experience her own pleasure.
For me it also has the effect of focusing me on her growing arousal—which while certainly mirroring my own is continually refocused on hers.
Take these photographs—similar in form and content, starkly different in execution.
Top: a stunningly young woman stands on a lanai, skin suffused by white hot tropical light. A medallion—perhaps an inch and a half in diameter—dangles just below her supersternal notch from a thin black cord encircling her neck; a visual trick that succeeds in making her tiny breasts appear flat. Her carefully manicured hands hook a thumb each in the elastic waist of her bikini, offering a glimpse of her depilated pubic area and labia majora. With her head tilted forward and right slightly—she appears as if interrupted in looking down at her body, judging how much of herself to reveal—eyeing finding the aperture and the spectator lurking behind it.
Bottom: Alba, (photographed by the devastatingly talented Lina Scheynius), a stunning young woman stands naked before an amaranth backdrop. Warm amber light—presumably from a window beyond the left frame edge—angles across her chest mirroring the line of her collar bone. Another illumination echoes the angle of the window—correcting it downward slightly— casting white across her right elbow, stomach, hips, unshaven pubis, finally finding her left forearm/hand as a result of the vague contrapposto bearing of her pose. Shadowed, her head gaze downward; focused on something only she can see. A single stray strand of hair escapes the bun atop her head, dangles by her cheek.
I know I am always going on about the politics of frame lines. To what extent I mean that as pertaining to graphically sexual images or all images, I am not sure I can articulate yet.
There is a general “rule” on this matter when it comes to image making: if you have to amputate a limb with the frame edge cut midway between joints instead of closer to the joints; this creating a more life-like rendering. (Don’t ever decapitate! Seriously if you are concerned for your anonymity just take a normal picture and black out your face in Photoshop, already!)
Which of the above follows this rule? What is the effect?
Also, note how the vertical frame edges in the top image do not line up with the fence or the edge of the patio.
The young woman in the top photo is sexually appealing in the extreme. After first blush, she is perfect. At the same time, she is not someone I am convinced could ever be known in any sense. Her eye contact purports a false intimacy, implies that if our paths ever crossed I would be best served to view her as nothing more than her exquisite body instead of seeing her as someone with a life that goes well sometimes, others not so much; who has needs both met and unmet. I am not saying she is objectified so much as reduced to an archetypal idea.
On the other hand: with every shred of context removed except her body, I find myself wondering who this Alba is, what her inner life is like at the same time I am aware that she wouldn’t owe me an answer if I ever met but that if I were lucky she might not mind being asked.
In the end, the last image is for me sexier; like most of Scheynius’ photos its restraint, patience and passion sears itself like a brand onto your visual memory.
I love their closed eyes, the bright flush to their faces, the bodies tense with forestalled impatience— I want you to enjoy it, enjoy me enjoying you enjoying it—a full-blown sensory flashback: I remember my knees shaking and teeth transformed to mercury quivering in my gums and the weight of knowing— God himself did make us into corresponding shapes like puzzle pieces from the clay; knowing is not enough against wanting, wanting to see this through tired-tired eyes spread holy-holy awed and wide as the wet of lips meeting and our fumbling lead boned find those secret fleshy spaces with their tiny, tiny alters to bear and burn lonely so many offerings.
The pale one, her fingers slid up almost to the wrist into the others blue-grey briefs, deeper; while she is herself caressed through white knickers— I remember the slick groove of a dew pussy leeching through cotton and then glistening silken on gliding fingertips.
In his The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche—bear with me—suggests Athenian drama as the highest form of human art due to its seamless fusion of the two most basic human tendencies; he termed these: the Apollonian (critical) and the Dionysian (libidinal).
Perhaps, this is not a bad way of beginning to analyze whether and to what extent a work of intended as pornography can transcend the intention of its creation and be seen as art.
This image suggests an approach to me because I have two very equal and opposite responses to it that can more-or-less be mapped along axes of critical and sensual responses.
Looking at this image with a critical eye I appreciate that, excepting for her knees and feet extending beyond the edge of the frame, this young woman is presented intact within the frame. If she were to feel so inclined she could get up and walk away.
She is aware of herself being seen at the same time she refuses to engage the spectator by closing her eyes and positioning her feet in a way which ensures the focal point remains her body as a whole not just her vulva.
On the other hand, the kitchen backdrop is hell of problematic. Whether intended or not, it portends an unchallenged allegiance to prevalent patriarchal attitudes.
Technically, the image is over-exposed and would have benefited immeasurably from the photographer taking a half step back before clicking the shutter. Also, the bright light falling on both the subject and the wall behind her flattens the image.
My libidinal response to this image is less conflicted. This woman is my decidedly my type: petite brunette with Eastern European features and barely-there breasts; and wonder of wonders, she has pubic hair—a hairless pubis can be breath-taking when it is the exception not the rule but I prefer hair down there.
But I cannot read this either as an Apollonian or Dionysian. My gaze drifts until it locks in on the slight glimpse of the hollow held by her labial folds. Then her set against the (cold?) wood floor reintroduce the angle at which her porcelain legs. My eyes scan upward and I find myself faced again and again with another human who desires (and is desired), dreams(is dreamed of) and needs (and is needed).