Megan CullenUntitled (2016)

I am the type of girl who sees something and pretty much immediately feels something about it. It’s a great skill for someone who is–ostensibly–an art commentator. (Honestly, it’s effing exhausting af in the here and now of day-to-day exigencies.)

Usually, I’m pretty good at pointing in the direction of why I feel the way I do about what I see. However, there are times when I know that I like something but I am not immediately able to convey any sense of the why of my feelings.

This is one such image.

The pace of keeping up with running this blog, on top of holding down a FT job and also trying to focus on my own various creative efforts–I am not always able to dig in long enough to suss out the whys.

Typically, I either append relevant quotes which expand, compound or complicate the photo/image in a way that feels like it points in the direction of what I feel but have no idea how to articulate. (Same with my #follow_the_thread and #juxtaposition tagged posts; #palette posts were originally similar but increasingly it’s just proven to be a much more clearheaded and coherent–therefore less abstract–way of “speaking” about color.)

Present, I am–after much weeping and gnashing of teeth–finally operating with a bit of a queue buffer. So I’ve had a little bit of time to sit with this image and work to untangle some of what appeals to me about it.

At first blush, I have mixed feelings about the composition. Either the camera or the bus is not level and the camera has not been especially reoriented to compensate. The mass of black in the upper left corner renders the frame top heavy and cumbersome.

However…

The immediacy of what’s depicted diminishes the impetus on getting a perfect frame in favor of baseline visual legibility requirements.

And I’m cheating a bit and putting the cart before the horse here. My initial reaction to this was bus (public), boob (’private’). (I am and will forever be a sucker for things that transgress on entrenched notions of what constitutes public and what constitutes private.)

The next thing I notice is that there’s two people in the frame. The anonymous young woman flashing people on the street (?) and another woman cracking the fuck up inside the bus–presumably aware of what’s happening. (The initial immediacy of the image expands by placing the image maker and by dint the viewer in a relationship of both see and seen, in a way which self-referentially indicts the voyeurism of seeing with an empathy of an awareness of the political and absurdist facets of being seen given discontinuous overlapping contexts.)

This immediate sends my brain scurrying to make connections with other examples of similar charged visual depictions. In this case, I immediate remembered oan-adn – The passenger (2015) and k.flight’s 2008 self-portrait titled in the back of the bus.

After a bit more contemplation I noticed that there’s what is without question the symbol for an eighth note on the side of the bus directly below the boob peeping through the open window. This adds a narrative implication to the image. (I think anyone who attended a quotidian American middle or high school has experiences of the abject tedium of being stuck with a bunch of classmates on an interminable bus ride. It’s not difficult to image that boredom inspiring the students to see if they can begin a process of brinksmanship where you do things in such a way as to be seen by your classmates but not noticed by chaperones. I am very taken with narrative potentiality–always.)

Really, though in this case I’m all about that eighth note, or as the British refer to it a quaver. Consider the definition of quaver:

verb (used without object)

  1. to shake tremulously; quiver or tremble:
  2. to sound, speak, or sing tremulously:
  3. to perform trills in singing or on a musical instrument

verb (used with object)

  1. to utter, say, or sing with a quavering or tremulous voice

noun

  1. a quavering or tremulous shake, especially in the voice
  2. a quavering tone or utterance
  3. Music (chiefly British). an eighth note

Quaver is actually the pitch perfect word-concept to accompany this image. And it pushes my brain even further because although it’s been years since I’ve studied music theory it strikes me that generally eighth notes are more a function of time signatures with an integer divisible by 3 in the numerator–as opposed to the more standard numerator divisible by 2.

When I was a child my mother referred to this as the difference between march time (2s in the numerator) and waltz time (3s in the numerator). She explained that all you had to do was pay attention to the way your body wanted to move with the music. If you want to march in a straight line it’s two based; if you want to turn in circles it’s three based.

This image is absolutely in waltz time.

Jack WelpottSherry (1980)

I featured a couple of interesting photos from Welpott a little more than a year ago.

The way his focal plane tilts ever so slightly forward–not sure if this is to emphasize the floor or was an effort to subconscious facilitate a behavior in the viewer or to convey a sense of psychological superiority to what he was depicting but I can’t say I’m fond of this unconscious tick.

Still: there’s no arguing that he was a master at presenting space as if it pre-ordered by some cosmic pattern instead of carefully constructed by the artist.

There’s something about scale with this image. Sherry looks improbably large in that bench. At first glance it seems like she might be floating because the bench is so deeply set into the shadows.

Also, this sort of lighting situation is realy difficult to handle. Stop down too much and you lose any of the interior details, open up and you get wicked over exposure. (Metering your highlight and then your shadow and splitting the difference usually works OK for exterior stuff. And admittedly B&W gives you even greater over to under range. This was carefully finessed. I’m not sure whether there was some sort of additional light source–whether some sort of flash unit filtering in just a touch of spill, or if there’s some sort of reflector out side the house bouncing light in, if things were shot with heavy bracketing–it’s  a real pain in the arse to do but you’ll never regret having done it when you’re editing; or, if it’s split graded when it was printed. (Although I was pretty great at split grading and this looks a little too seamless.)

It also reminds me of something I was asked for when I tried to apply to a filmmaking program after finishing my undergrad stint. They wanted my reel to contain at least one instance where I had an interior shot with a window and you could see through the window in such a way that you could make out both what was outside and what was inside. (It’s actually a fun little challenge, if you’re ever bored.)

Rebekah CampbellGrace Hartzel for Odda Magazine (2017)

Hartzel is a fantastic model. (I’ve featured her work with Roe Ethridge previously.)

However–although I definitely dig this image–I’m posting it primarily as a means of correcting something I realize I fucked up a while back; namely: I referred to the gesture in classical oil paintings that was used as a shorthand to indicate the person making the symbol as Jesus.

It occurred to me that the gesture–although based upon anointing parishioners with consecrated oil–is actually also startlingly similar to the configuration commonly used to stimulate the G-spot.

In my cursory research, I noted that the positioning of the fingers was supposed to spell ICXC–which is the ancient Greek abbreviation for Jesus Christ.

Well, I was incorrect. There are two gestures–one associated with Catholics, the other localized to Greek and Eastern Orthodox.

The gesture that Hartzel is making is the Catholic variation–it does not spell out ICXC. (And it is definitely the same gesture most commonly associated with stimulating the G-spot.)

The Orthodox gesture is actually comparable to what the kids these days call The Shocker–or two in the pink, one in the stink.

I vaguely remember reading somewhere that frequently–Xtianity, esp. Catholicism, appropriated it’s symbols from various cults, frequently doing little beyond futzing with their orientation before deploying them. (The essay I’m thinking of mentioned how the upside down cross is actually the original orientation–as it was associated with a decidedly anti-Roman fertility cult; however, Catholicism–being linked with Rome–inverted the symbol to reorient things in line with the Roman context of Christ’s Crucifixion and ‘resurrection’. Thus, the cross in the upright orientation is actually the perverted symbol with regard to the context of its place in ecumenical/liturgical usage.)

Rimel NeffatiTitle unknown (201X)

Death, The Last Visit
Marie Howe

Hearing a low growl in your throat, you’ll know that it’s started.
It has nothing to ask you. It has only something to say, and
it will speak in your own tongue.

Locking its arms around you, it will hold you as long
as you ever wanted.
Only this time it will be long enough. It will not let go.
Burying your face in its dark shoulder, you’ll smell mud and hair
and water.

You’ll taste your mother’s sour nipple, your favorite salty cock
and swallow a word you thought you’d spit out once and be done with.
Through half-closed eyes you’ll see that its shadow looks like yours,

a perfect fit. You could weep with gratefulness. It will take you
as you like it best, hard and fast as a slap across your face,
or so sweet and slow you’ll scream give it to me give it to me
until it does.

Nothing will ever reach this deep. Nothing will ever clench this hard.
At last (the little girls are clapping, shouting) someone has pulled
the drawstring of your gym bag closed enough and tight. At last

someone has knotted the lace of your shoe so it won’t ever
come undone.
Even as you turn into it, even as you begin to feel yourself stop,
you’ll whistle with amazement between your residual teeth oh jesus

oh sweetheart, oh holy mother, nothing nothing nothing ever felt
this good.

Nicolás UribeSunday Conversation (2008)

I really love this guy’s work.

But this one in particular has a lot of meaning for me.

My life has been a living hell for the last five months. My partner is dependent, at least, in all likelihood addicted to pain killers. She’s fine as long as she can get pills but when she can’t she becomes profoundly emotionally abusive, manipulative and suicidal.

For the longest time, she was the only person who wanted me and more than that wanted to be with me. But at the end of May last year, I went out to the Bay Area for the first time and spent 48 hours with my friend Amadine (not her real name).

It was maybe the best 48 hours of my entire life. I have only ever felt so completely connected with one other person in my life.

Anyway, the first night I was with her we ate edibles together and sat on the couch in her living room talking. As those of you in California already know, the CA medical edibles tend to come in a bit higher in THC concentration than they are advertised. For example: at that point I was consuming around 35mgs on a two days on-one day off rotation. I ate something like 65mgs that night and I’ve only been that stoned maybe three other times in my life.

Amadine was outline three projects she wants to work on, one involving animation.

Unlike this painting, we were fully clothed. In fact, her partner was in the other room. We also were not sitting side-by-side. She was sitting with her back against the arm of the couch, with her legs crossed, her knee touching my thigh.

The only light in the room was a lamp on Amadine’s desk–her desk being in a recessed work space divided off from the main room by one of those antique dividers with the carved wooden arabesques. As my eyes scanned between her eyes and the room–I have trouble with eye contact and while that trouble is almost non-existent with her, I had to keep shifting my gaze because the urge to lean forward and kiss her was so overwhelming.

The light through the carved gaps seemed like it was rotoscoped, it kept undulating and shifting slightly distracting me. Amadine stopped talking and we just sat there looking at each other for what felt like five minutes. She finally giggled and smiling broadly said, wow, yo, that was super intense.

It’s taken a while but we’ve finally gotten around to talking about our experiences of that weekend. And it turns out that we are both insanely attracted to each other but that due to a number of factors in her world right now it’s not something that those feelings aren’t something that can be acted upon just yet.

So yeah, this painting perfectly captures the feeling of sharing space and time with a dear friend that I love and am devastatingly attracted to…

It’s probably not realistic and I know we won’t hook up when I see her again next month, but I stupidly have in mind that we might be able to share space again like before, perhaps more inline with this painting. (We both have a pronounced nudist streak, so it’s not impossible even if it is unlikely.)

wonderlust photoworks in collaboration with Kelsey Dylan– [↑] Not a Place–a Feeling (2016); [-] The Anchorite’s Niche (2016); [↓] Opia (2016)

Kelsey and I were able to pull together a quick session while she was in New York in November.

There was nowhere near enough light and I only had 100 speed film on hand but I think we still managed some good snaps.

Also, I think I’m getting a better handle on how to communicate with photographic collaborators. And I’m super excited now that my B&W slide lab is back online. (Can’t wait to get back into serious B&W work again.)

Raven MacabreAimee IV American Beauty (2009)

I can’t remember who said it but a noted photographer–doubtlessly riffing along the lines of Warhol’s infamous 15 minutes assertion–claimed that in the future everyone will take one good photo in their lifetime.

This is Raven Macabre’s one ‘good’ photo.

I use the scare quotes because Macabre is one of those image makers whose work I just freaking detest–super-saturated colors limited to aggressive strip club chromatic palates, completely bereft of even the vaguest understanding of compositional logic (to wit: Macabre treats #skinnyframebullshit as his default orientation, earning my wrath) and despite being a ‘visual’ artist employing a text-only watermark (I pointedly opted to find a version of the image that excluded the watermark).

All that said: there is something about this image. It’s digital–so there’s some color exchange between the bright light flooding in and the area between Aimee’s right shoulder and the window; but this is a sublime exposure given the scene–yes, her left eye is a little too dark but a negative shot at the same settings would’ve rendered just enough of a kiss of extra latitude to distinguish the white from the pupil.

The slight tilt of her head and the play of the light accentuates the perfect classical shape of her face and flouts the conventional wisdom that when both a subjects head and shoulders are square to the lens, the resulting affect is to render the person as if they were dead.

The skin tone skews a little to yellow and magenta but were you to get in there and edit it, you’d have to be careful about losing some of the grace notes (i.e. the darker pink of her right nipple against the lighter pink of her areola and the slight reddening around her vulva indicating less than eight hours from her last depilatory session).

In summary: there’s no reason this should be vertically composed and it breaks a number of rules but the moment it captures is authentically unmediated enough that the stillness of it makes it a surprising editing choice for an image maker who seems desensitized to anything that isn’t loud and obvious.

Patricio SuarezUntitled (2013)

I’ve posted about Suarez before and I remain just as if not maybe a bit more enamored with his work now.

Spending more time with the work I’ve discovered a conceptual reflexiveness between his tendency to focus on picturesque interiors and a concern for a psychological interiority.

In some photographs the subject acknowledges the camera but it’s rare to feel that the gaze is directed at any audience. Instead, it feels more like the audience is intended to serve as a mirror.

I also can’t help but note how this image feels different than the rest of Suarez’s work. Whereas the rest of the work features mostly woman, in darkened, oneric locations, all of it feels very different than the way so many of the image makers who are producing quasi-narrative work that is a hybrid of portraiture and documentary, there tends to be a feeling of loneliness to it.

I don’t feel that with the rest of the work but I do very strongly with this image. A tenacious melancholia. The image offers no clue as to what might be the cause of that feeling. But it does strike me not that the feeling is incidental so much as a closely held secret that wants to be told but is not sure the telling won’t just bring about more harm.

Truly lovely.