Dan KitchensChanty, NYC (2014)

This is quite nice.

As far as light’s concerned that’s a balanced gamut from shadow without detail (beneath Chanty’s hands), shadow with detail (the lower left edge of the frame), midtones, effing fantastic skin tone, highlights with detail (her shirt) and highlight without detail (most of her left sleeve).

If this were any other image on Tumblr, you’d see the white edge of the window that’s illuminating the room. Compositionally, it would be a terrible decision, distracting from the dynamic tension between light and dark. Instead, the window is excluded and instead the only hint of it besides the light it’s introducing and subsequent shadows cast, is the left arm of her top. Along with the chair favored slightly to frame left and angled ever so slightly toward the window, the frame is well balanced. (I can’t remember ever seeing this before but it’s a great notion–in traditional photography, if anything too near the edge of the image is blown out, you actually have to increase the amount of light it gets when making a print in order to burn it in so that it does not appear to be the same color as the paper.)

I’m pretty sure this has been edited post-capture–the left chair arm appears to have been dodged and the right chair arm appears to have been burned in to increase the sense of dimensionality.

Taken together, this creates an aesthetically pleasing image that is rich with texture: carpet, chair, wallpaper and curtains–not to mention Chanty’s hair and skin.

I’m not 100% sure about the lampshade behind her head. The shadow cast by the lampstand is super obvious and I think that distracts. Also, her expression seems less expression than transitory shift between expressions.

My gut instinct if it were my image and I was editing it, would be to go back and try to pull some texture out of the lamp shade, or just darken in in a fashion not unlike the lower left corner of the frame has been burned in

9mouthUntitled from Instax Love series (201X)

The Sino photographer identifiable by the moniker 9mouth is hugely problematic. (I won’t repeat myself: you can read my previous thoughts on his process here.)

Still he does manage to produce some truly breathtaking photos–seemingly in spite of his galling misogynist bombast.

Here the interplay between the flash and the semi-reflective wallpaper renders an incrementally overexposed skin tone–not only flattering but also steeped in an almost tonal patina of late night in a seedy love motel vibe.

The model’s expression is an inscrutable defensive wall–is she bored? annoyed/impatient? judgmental (of the photographer? Or the viewer? Little of column A, little of column B?)

I get the sense that this is very much front loaded with ambiguity. There is a very compelling feeling of intimacy; yet, also a sense that the intimacy is forced–not exactly contrived or coerced but conditional somehow.

That conditional consideration and that it is effectively what makes this image so successful is more than a little discomfiting. (At least to me.) So while I am willing to acknowledge that this is an astute image–I think it functions in a fashion that operates in a sort of beyond good and evil approach to broader issues of consent and visual representation. Another way to say it might be to say that if mainstream porn shifted its model to produce art, it would likely come off much like this.

John DugdaleA Turbulent Dream (1996)

I’m forever suspicious of artists who lead with a list of influences. It always feels a bit like an effort to force your work to rub shoulders with the work that initially drove you from passive consumer to active creator. And it frequently comes off as an attempt to predispose the audience to approaching the work in a proscribed fashion.

I’ve learned to be especially dubious of people who lead with exceedingly obvious options. Like I’m not going to talk about the influence of Francesca Woodman or Andrei Tarkovsky on my own work because the debt is so extensive and front-and-center that to draw further attention to it would be rudely redundant.

Dugdale’s portfolio is there double quick with the suggestion of a genealogy shared with Henry Fox Talbot, John Herschel, and Julia Margaret Cameron. Excluding Talbot, they aren’t the usual suspects.

He goes on to mention the American Transcendentalists: Whitman, Dickinson, Thoreau, and Emerson.

I’m always intrigued by the cross-pollination of disciplines in the arts. So a photographer who cites writers as influences, has my attention. (In my own work, although I won’t get into Woodman or Tarkovsky, I will absolutely drone one endlessly about the global impact on my own creativity as a result of the music of Godspeed You! Black Emperor.)

For the benefit of those of you who aren’t necessarily well-versed in the art historical equivalent of card counting, Dugdale is soft shoeing it around a rather obvious exclusion: William Blake.

But wait, you interject, wasn’t Blake all about Red Dragons and The Ancient of Days?

Indeed he was. But, bear in mind that Blake was subversive as fuck. He was re-introducing the fantastic to the familiar–the familiar being prudery surrounding the practice of Xtianity. Or, if you’d prefer: Blake wanted to reappropriate wonder from centuries of lifeless liturgical boredom.

Dugdale’s work seems comparably preoccupied with searching for the transcendent in the mundane.

And now I’ve earned the right to inform you that Dugdale is completely blind and has been for the majority of his photographic career. 

Sabrina DacosThe hand that rocks the cradle (2010)

The bumbling mad scientist in me would love to facilitate an experiment on the effects of porn consumption on straight, cisgendered boys.

This experiment would consist of two groups–one left to their own devices while another was granted access to sex positive, body positive, feminist and artfully executed pornography. (In other words, work of the sort for which Dacos is–in my mind–the quintessential exemplar.)

Of course, such a project would never pass muster with an ethics board (primarily for reasons to which I’m almost certain I would strenuously object). And I’m not naive enough to think there would be a total mitigation of heteronormative sexism in the second group; however, I’d like to think the second group would demonstrate a slightly different post-study trajectory of porn consumption.

I admit a strong bias driving this hypothetical experiment–I’m motivated by a retro-active wish that I’d had access to exactly the sort of sensitive, sophisticated pornographic material at the time I was navigating puberty. I suspect it would have diminished much of the guilt I experienced consuming such material given not only the front loading of puritanical bullshit into my Xtian upbringing as well as assuaging the nascent feminist awareness I felt at that juncture in my life.

EDIT: It’s been brought to my attention that my conceptualization of feminism and Ms. Dacos’ diverge significantly. That’s fine–feminism is a big tent. I’m not about to tell anyone else what they should think. That being said, I do find some of her commentary to be disturbing and sometimes even repugnant. So much so that my first response was to delete this post. I’m going to leave it though–to show that I’m not always right and that I make mistakes when I assume things just by only looking at someone’s work and not doing any research about their pubic facing persona.

My sincere apologies if my glaring oversight offended anyone (and thanks to wyoh for opening my eyes).

Clare LaudeUntitled self portrait from When Water Comes Together with Other Water series (2014)

I spent the winter break of my junior year of college watching Fassbinder’s arguably best film Berlin Alexanderplatz.

Upon returning to my filmmaking class, I felt a spark to get out and make something. It seemed like I had all these new and intriguing ideas.

One of my classmates–and truthfully my only rival for dominance in the class–inquired what I’d watched over break. It was so casual and off-handed that I didn’t realize the trap until I was snared.

Tarkovsky, Wenders and Fassbinder are unparalleled geniuses, he started: But to schmucks like you and I what they offer in inspiration is just as addictive as any drug. We much be wary in approaching them, mindful of the profound effect they have on us.

I thought of him as a preposterous bloviating dickbag at the time, but increasingly I’m realizing he isn’t wrong.

And that’s what sucks me in to Laude’s work. She wears her profound regard for artists such as Andy Goldsworthy and Tarkovsky on her sleeve but does so in her own distinct voice–I’d label it quiet, more in the way of the lack of volume being the point (think John Cage’s 4’33").

Further, I think I just share a certain affinity of personality with the artist since she expresses a connection to two of the most important places to me in the world: Island and Berlin.

And I’m always excited to see nude self-portraiture seamlessly integrated into fine art photography as an element instead of the sole focus.

Source unknown – Title unknown (XXXX)

Here’s an example of a vertical frame that isn’t #skinnyframebullshit.

Why? You ask, Isn’t it just echoing form of the subjects?

Well, it is doing that but in this case a landscape orientation contributes little additional context to the image. As it is we can tell it’s a small bedroom, demonstrating exactly how small it is–if anything–belabors an already clear representation.

The trick that makes a skinny frame work here is the narrow triangular form of the overexposed motion blur adorning his hands and her left side would–in a wider frame–be subject to de-emphasis. Further, the vertical framing draws attention to the discarded clothes piled on the bedside table and likely Russian electrical outlet.

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.

Edges are important. Particularly given their extensive history of being manipulated in order to objectify and sexualize the female body—expertly lampooned by Duchamp’s Etant Donnes.

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.