Andrew KaiserTitle Unknown (201X)

I dig Kaiser’s work. His B&W stuff is frequently good, sometimes great. (This image of Gwendolyn Jane from last year will hold its own against just about any other image made that year.)

He seems to prefer film and although I’m probably reading into it too much he seems to possess a better grounding than 95% of the quote-unquote fine art nude photographers out there–in that he appears to own that something isn’t just art because some schlep asked a a naked woman to stand on a bounder in a picturesque landscape.

I love this image, for example because there’s a stillness, a calming quiet around it. It feels uncontrived–the viewer is allowed to glimpse something that they probably wouldn’t otherwise be able to see. But the emphasis isn’t on the transgressiveness of the seeing but on documenting the immediacy of the experience. The current rippling around her fingers, the watery undulations of her reflection.

But the thing I like best about it is that her anonymity is preserved. No, it doesn’t look entirely natural–it’s clearly been burned in quite a bit. But the point is it is unequivocally bad craft/technique/etiquette to use the frame edges to decapitate a subject. It’s inherently objectifying, first off. Second off, it’s lazy and inexcusably sloppy. Yes, including the entirety of the body presents a litany of additional challenges that aren’t always easy to negotiate; but the result will always be superior to the alternative.

Adrian Sztruksportra 400 (2014)

Kodak Portra is NOT my cup of tea. It tends toward muted pastels with compression in the highlights that I find unappealing.

Plus: if you’re working analog and making portraits or so-called fine art nudes, you likely use Portra. And call me an iconoclast but: girlfriend, ubiquity is an enormous turn off.

That being said, three things about this scan interest me:

  1. It’s medium format with a shallow depth of field, check the way that the bokeh seethes against the grain structure–a nice, thoroughly cinematic effect that highlights the young woman while also clearly grounding her in her environment.
  2. Because it’s medium format, there’s a good chance the camera doesn’t have built-in metering. As a result, this is slightly underexposed. (Little known oddity about cameras, unless you’re actually measuring the amount of light in exact relationship through the lens onto the focal plane, then you get hit up by the discrepancy between F* and T* stops.
  3. The highlights aren’t compressed, you’re retaining a full range of detail in the sheets but further more note how the tonal range of the wall–ostensibly yellow–is not replicated within the woman’s skin tone. The result is an appealing warm tone–which is 120% in keeping with the image. However, from the standpoint of color correction, such separation offers a ridiculous range as far as color balancing. (For example: I’d apply basic color correction, monkey around until I got Prue Stent-esque skin tone and lastly add a little bit of the amber glow back.)

Renee Kingself portrait (2015)

This photograph takes my breath away.

There’s room for improvement: the background–a patio/porch, a sliding glass door and a door leading into a laundry room–is ho-hum; the basket is an interesting touch and the depth of field does a good bit to focus attention on the subject; conversely, the three items intruding into the frame on the lower left are ultimately distracting.

But look at the way her hands are perfectly aligned with the bottom of the frame! And the tautly sinuous effortlessness of it. (Perhaps half a demerit for the oddness of not being able to see her right foot–a slight shift so that it would be seen protruding behind her right thigh would’ve accent the dynamics of her pose.)

Anyway you slice it, Renee King is splendidly talented photographer. I hope you’re all following her.

Zhang XiaoUntitled from They series (2012)

The first and third time I read BarthesThe Pleasure of the Text, I was on a metric fuck ton of drugs.

I’m pretty sure the seed of the initial idea started the first time and then started to send up emerald shoots during the third.

And I guess because I am stoned now I’m willing to jump into this half-cocked and without any sort of safety net but it strikes me that there is an analogy between ‘a narrative’ and ‘the erotic’.

I am specifically avoiding the word ‘story’ due to the fact that a story can technically be X then Y then Z and a narrative entails some awareness of the relationship between the form the story takes and the iteration with which it unfolds.

A less abstract way of saying it might be conveyed in the deconstruction of the adage never tell where it is possible to show–a story tells; a narrative illustrates.

A great many things may draw the audience into a narrative. A story about a lesbian software engineer in love will have varying resonances with an IT systems admin vs. a single mother vs. a gender queer high school student.

Yet, what a successful narrative does is to encourage a suspension of disbelief. At the most basic level, even the illustration of events are by their very nature not the events themselves.

One element of the success of a narrative could be the degree to which disbelief is suspended in the audiences. (Of course, this is only one–and a relatively minor one, at that–metric.)

I feel that a similar correlation exists between erotica and arousal. (You can argue that arousal is the point of erotica–but couldn’t you say the same of the relationship between a narrative and suspension of disbelief?)

Let’s return to the matter of form. Whether one is preoccupied with the traditional five act structure or the Hollywood three act progression–the latter being a compression of the former, there is a rather unnerving parallelism with the experience of eroticism: exposition/background/context/et. al., inciting force, rising action, turning point (of no return), falling action, climax, catastrophe/denouement.

I really don’t like the formulaic. In literature, we talk about these structures to provide a gross framework for grappling with the mechanics of written fiction. Writing that uses these frameworks will never be great but it can be good–in the same way using a template to build a website at least keeps the designer from fouling things up too terribly.

So let’s consider a different analogue. How about physics? We know that an object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by another force. And that an object in motion tends to stay in motion until acted upon by another force. We term these potential motion and inertia, respectively.

By and large, porn isn’t interested in the book hanging half off the bookshelf ledge. Ostensibly porn is interested in the book falling and hitting the floor.

Alternately, a narrative is going to be interested in the teenager who had a crap day at school and came home and picked up the latest bit of crime fiction she’s enjoying until her cell rings. Caller ID says its the girl in her class she has a crush on. So she puts the book down absently on the book shelf and answers the phone. The book hangs their for a second and then tips, crashing to floor scaring the kitten sleeping in the open window half out of its skin.

(Again I’m stoned as fuck so I’m not 100% sure this works but this sort of distinction might also be a means of better differentiating between erotica vs. art vs. porn–that that the three are or should be considered mutually exclusive.)

I would argue the above image is a narrative. It illustrative of a background–the poor illumination, the two beer bottles on the table to the left, the way the young woman is sitting barely propped upon the chair, her face flushed. There’s been a night of riotous drinking and she is perhaps too intoxicated at this point. There’s a sly expression of resignation, coy flirtation and expectation. (And as a just so we’re clear: someone who is visibly this blasted cannot give informed consent when it comes to sexy times.)

It seems clear that the photographer and this woman are likely to go home together. Whether they know each other is unclear. But that may not be the case–apparently these series was made from the photographer’s observations while working in Chongqing. (All the images were made with a Holga camera.)

Either way this is a veritable Cartier-Bresson-esque ‘decisive moment’ where the viewer is presented with a clear context for what has happened and is asked to imagine how things might have played out after the shutter clicked. (All the more impressive because so very much is communicated with startling lucidity with so very very little.

Sanders McNewFinancial Services, Minnesota (2009)

If you wish to shoot deliberately, to front only the essential facts of image making, and see if you can learn what it has to teach then go out into the landscape, I say. Take your square format, studio portraits and milky white backgrounds and shove them up your ass.

Except… well, sometimes I’m wrong and it’s a rare image that can not only make me admit I’m wrong but that makes me completely rethink my objections.

The focus here is on Brooke Lynne–she’s either trying on a new pair of glasses or nervously adjusting the pair she’s worn for months. There’s something both hyper posed and yet off-balance to it.

A milky white background typical decontextualizes the model emphasizing physicality. But although the backdrop certainly accentuates the shape of her body, the lighting and the simultaneous stylization and awkwardness of her posture emphasize shift attention to her gesture.

In most portraiture work in this style, I always feel as if the decontextualization is an effort to isolate the model; an invitation to objectify her.

This feels quite the opposite. LEss that there is no background than any background complicates matters unnecessarily.

In fact, browsing McNew’s Flickr leaves my head spinning at just how diverse a body of work given reasonably limited operating parameters.