I’m not sure the composition completely works in this photo–there’s a simultaneous sense of space being flattened (the photographer is almost certainly as far back as she can be against the railing and the model appears to be right up against the plant) but also there’s an insistence on contextualizing the location as being on the water front.
What saves it is the mood or tone–the pose is melancholy, contemplative and sensual all at once. Yet, what really keeps me coming back is the texture. The vertical lines where she’s holding the diaphanous material taut against her throat, the horizontal lines of the roof overhanging the deck, the vertical moire interference of the screen and the radial extrusions from the plant.
Against, all logic, I think this might be an exception to the rule of #skinnyframebullshit; in that I think if you’d taken the camera where it is when this photo was snapped and rotated it 90° counterclockwise, I think this photo could’ve taken on the same sort of ephemeral tactility that enlivens so much of the best of Jeff Wall’s work.
As it is, it’s still head and shoulders above the rest of most of the glut of work released by internet famous photographers.
When I see this image, I can’t shake the notion that photography and digital imagining can arguably be reduced to questions regarding contrast–e.g. inclusion vs exclusion (framing), luminosity vs. opacity, near vs. far, etc.
More directly linked with this image–and it’s genius–is the quintessential question of depth vs flatness.
No matter whether it’s photography or digital imaging, the result involves compression. Spatial references are reduced to micro-fine layers in an emulsion or an array of pixels. In other words: three dimensions are rendered in two.
Over time certain modes of visual shorthand have become codified–e.g. with skintone we have notions interpolated based on the Zone System or the red before blue before green rule of thumb.
As best I can tell these tendencies are meant to be aesthetically pleasing but the why they are attractive has to do with stylistics–the notion of skin as smooth and/or soft. (And this is more of a psychological prejudice than a factual one–I mean look at the back of your hand up close and it looks like a muddy landscape that has been sun baked until it takes on the appearance of craquelure.)
In other words, there is a notion that as far as Caucasian models are concerned there is a preference for either an alabaster or apricot tone–an ersatz synesthesia by consensus where tonality or color is in and of itself supposed to be suggestive of texture.
As a synesthete, I am constantly befuddled by this knee-jerk approach. I mean: show me an image of a swatch of twill pictured under strong light and I can actually feel the texture of the material on my fingertips.
Here though it almost works and how it works is by taking a step back to consider how photography/image making is about contrast and then juxtaposing something which easily conveys textural information (water) against something which does not easily convey textural information (skin).
Simple, elegant and something I’ll be trying to figure out how to apply to my own work going forward.
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.
Choumali is an Ivorian image maker who focuses primarily on work featuring African woman.
Her focus is primarily vibrant, super-saturated color (and she’s really fabulous as using the intersections between non-complimentary colors to flatter her subjects.
She also works occasionally in monochrome–and her work here is rather audacious.
I’m not really a fan of studio work. And although that’s what Choumali does more or less exclusively and while I do consider her color work both incisive and bold, it is her monochrome stuff I can’t shake.
Part of it is that I will always be a fan of complication. By that I mean studio photography allows for more control. You can set up in advance, orchestrate the lights, get everything just so and then you can invite the subject and focus on interaction as opposed to juggling 18 other things at once.
Unfortunately, this tends to mean that studio work is pristine and allows for the setting to be decontextualized in favor of allow a laser sharp focus on the subject. Choumali pushes things–ambitiously–in quite a different direction.
Here the almost Pollock-esque speckled backdrop both separates the subject from the backdrop (enhanced with some perhaps less than as subtle as you’d really hope for dodging along the subject’s back and hips. It contributes a solidity to this woman that the shadow her body cases flattens back out.
The solidity is counter balanced expertly by an ephemerality that is echoed in the pose is the subject kneeling or rising? Is her pose contrite or self-accepting and joyful?
I speak virtually on the daily with photographers who are interested in shining a light on the notion of vulnerability with their work. Choumali does exactly that magnificently.
Coming up on four years ago now, I reached out to Chill to see if he’d be willing for me to interview him about his work. He graciously agreed–and the resulting interview remains one of the most popular posts I’ve ever made.
He’s continued to make exceptional work in the interim. I’ve especially liked his divergences into B&W. As someone whose work hinges so much on color–his eye is well-suited to a monochrome palette.
What’s interesting is that where I feel like his early work uses a dominant color to create a particular cast for each image–as I recall I observed that he uses color the same way amber traps insects.
This accomplishes something rather intriguing in its departure from that motif. It feels like his forays into B&W have emphasized a new awareness for texture. For example: this frame has six different textures all superbly rendered–ferns (which I suppose are technically two textures as the anterior and posterior surfaces are very different), the sweater, the lace body suit, skin, socks and there’s even a sense of the solidity of the trees in the distance.
The image clearly wouldn’t be as striking in monochrome–but the color is simultaneously key to what makes it interesting while it also balances hyper stylized color against texture, which manages to render the scene more convincingly naturalistic.
Lastly, I am actually grateful to Chill for his continued patronage of Acetylene Eyes. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to suggest that probably 2/3 of the people who find my blog these days get her via his side blog @veryspecialporn.
I first encountered the portrait of Emma via @thephotoregistry–which continues to be one of the best things on Tumblr.
I liked the way that the texture of Emma’s hair is set off against her blouse as well as the smoothness of the background.
Upon closer reading: I realized the nature of the project–relating to vaginismus, a condition wherein an sort of vaginal penetration causes intense pain. (I have two friends who have this condition and what they’ve told me about it sounds absolutely heinous.)
Via Oosterhof’s LensCulture profile, she says of her process: “I carefully build the image, staging all details.”
That actually tracks given these works. Note: the lighting on the background alone is drastically different between the three images. The lighting on the women is less different but there’s still some variation. I’m especially fond at the way she’s both used the lighting to separate the women from the backdrop while also playing the background lighting against the foreground lighting to dramatic effect given the positioning and pose of the subject.
Source unknown – Title unknown (201X)
The idea of waiting for something makes it more exciting. –Andy Warhol
I would like you to
show me, if you can, where the line can be drawn between an organism and
it’s environment. The environment is in you. It’s passing through you.
You’re breathing it in and out. You and every other creature.