Archive for the ‘Sexuality’ Category
Juergen Teller’s exhibition, simply titled Woo! is currently on display at the ICA in London. The photographs span a period of over 20 years, giving the exhibition a feeling of a retrospective. The German photographer is best-known for his controversial fashion photography which often features his subjects (and himself) in the nude. In fact, Teller’s photographic methods have virtually become synonymous with nudity and as such, the exhibition delivers precisely on that point. A super-large photograph depicts the British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood in the nude as she parts her legs on a sofa – the decadent textile design of which stands in stark contrast to her pale white skin. Her genital area is in the very centre of the photograph, and, flanked by two more Westwood nudes, the photograph is in the very centre of the room. It quickly becomes clear that the perspective of the photographer is dominated by varying degrees of the nude, and more precisely, by the celebrity in the nude.
The non-nudes in the exhibition thus align themselves in unusual patterns amongst the reclining and contorting bodies. At one end of the ‘Westwood room’ is a huge photograph of a little kitten looking innocently into the camera, while on the other end is a black and white image of the American musician Kurt Cobain, his face turned away from the camera, strumming his guitar. The juxtaposition establishes a binary of extremes: soft vs. hard, beauty vs. beast, innocent vs. guilty, life vs. death (Cobain took his own life three years after the image was taken). As other photographs in the exhibition vividly illustrate, Teller’s work constantly navigates in between these extremes.
The title of the exhibition perhaps applies to Teller ‘wooing’ his subjects, trying to gain their attention and trying to seduce them with his camera. This impression is reinforced by the perceived celebrity status of the people Teller photographs: Kate Moss, Lily Cole, Björk or Charlotte Rampling to name just a few. These are women that need to be ‘wooed’. Instead, perhaps it is actually the viewer of the photographs who is supposed to be ‘wooed’ by these celebrities and Teller’s ability to gain access into their world. Many photographs read like a record of a brief encounter which Teller was privileged to be part of. As if this exclusive world of models, fashion designers, musicians and other celebrities would not suffice for gaining the viewer’s attention, the work is blown up to extreme proportions. Teller’s work is big, it’s colourful, it sparkles, it dazzles, it says ‘look at me’.
Teller’s more personal projects such as ‘Irene im Wald’ – a set of photographs which literally follows his mother ‘Irene into the Woods’ – are drowned out by the ‘loud’ world of celebrity culture. Here, Teller tries something completely different as his mother (a banal subject) is simply depicted taking a walk with some of her friends in the woods (a banal activity). The images stand in such contrast to the rest of the exhibition that one could be forgiven for not noticing them at all. Yet with ‘Irene im Wald’, Teller does not necessarily communicate via images, but rather, he tells a story via a number of captions. The story paints a surprisingly frank image of Teller as a young boy, transfixed by Nastassja Kinski’s seductive appearance on a popular German crime TV show called Tatort. As if to revisit Kinski’s highly erotic appearance on German TV over and over again, Teller’s photographs provide a frank, intimate and often controversial window into a world that would otherwise remain hidden. III Originally published on photomonitor.co.uk.
Eva Stenram is a London based visual artist. Incorporating digitally manipulated photographs, found photographs and images from the internet, Eva’s work comments on our complex relationship with the photographic image, our relationship with surveillance culture and our relationship with privacy. Eva was recently nominated for the Les Rencontres d’Arles Discovery Award while her newest series ‘Drape’ is on display at Parc des Ateliers in Arles until 23 September 2012. Her website can be found here: evastenram.co.uk.
Marco Bohr: A lot of your work incorporates ‘found’ photographs, appropriated photographs, images from the internet, photographs from family albums and so forth. I am curious to hear whether you regard yourself as a photographer considering that the images you work with are often taken by a machine or by someone else? Are you concerned with appropriating images for your own practice? Who ‘owns’ these images?
Eva Stenram: I call myself an artist who works with photographs although I realise that might sound a bit ridiculous. I don’t know very much about how cameras work and I have no idea about lighting and using flash, so I find it dishonest to claim that I am a photographer even though most of my output is images that look like photographs. Sometimes I do take photographs to make work but it can be a bit hit and miss. I couldn’t be commissioned to shoot anything that needs a predictable outcome.
I am very interested in the different functions that photography has in the wider world and am fascinated by the many photographs that surround us. Often I end up directly using these images, but manipulating them in some way. The first time I did this was a reworking of photographs from my parents’ family album (fusing these with contemporary pictures of myself); and I found I liked the way that some control was taken away from me. I couldn’t decide how my mother was photographed – what she was wearing, how she sat, the look on her face – forty years ago. The image has qualities and quirks that define it, and I had to work with these. In my projects I don’t merely want to create photographs, I want to interact with photographic history and culture. An obvious way to do this is to interact with the raw materials.
For me, of course these become my pictures. They become totally different from what they were originally. Whether this would also apply in front of a court, I do not know but I cannot let that worry me. This is the work that needs to be made, so I make it.
MB: In your project ‘pornography/forest_pics’ you appropriated images from internet porn sites while focussing on pornographic scenes filmed in a forest or a seemingly natural environment. You then edit out the subjects and the sexual encounter between the subjects on Photoshop. What’s left in the images are blankets, mattresses, pieces of clothing and the natural landscape in the background of the image. My first impression when I saw this series is that these places look like crime scenes. Is it perhaps because the images represent an inversion of an intrinsically private activity in a public place? What do you want the viewer to see?
ES: All of the images are set within or around forests – I was interested in the forest because it is simultaneously a very private space as well as a public space. It is a place of beauty and contemplation as well as a potentially dangerous place. Traditionally, the forest has been a metaphor for sexual desires.
When I started working on the series I started to notice that when I removed the ‘action’ in the photographs, the photographs started to look like they were depicting spaces where something had previously happened. I think this is both because of the way they are shot – the angle of looking at the scene – and the objects that are left behind. They reminded me of police forensic/crime photography too; it was as if these were sites of horrific but unnamed events. But lots of the photographs are very boring too – perhaps they just depict a bit of grass.
In all of the photos I was interested in making the manipulations quickly, so that the new images have some imperfections. There are things repeating within the images and visible cuts in the images. These are not immediately noticeable but I think they unconsciously draw the viewer in – there is something not quite right, a turbulence within the image.
MB: In your newest series ‘Drape’ you digitally manipulate vintage pin-up photos so that the bodies of the pin-up girls are retrospectively covered by curtains you digitally extended from the original photographs. It’s a very complex working method while the resulting images are extremely evocative, ambiguous and sexually loaded. As the original photos depict bare feet, legs, shoes and stockings, the work appears to comment on the fetish and our fetishistic relationship with the photographic image. I am interested in your methodology for producing this work. When did you first come across the source material? How did you edit it? What elements where you looking for in the source material? When did the idea for the final art piece emerge? What are you attempting to communicate with this work?
ES: I had been thinking about the curtain or drape as a device for covering up parts of the images for a while and had made some experiments using non-erotic imagery. I then by chance came across a vintage pin-up photograph in which the naked model was posed on a sofa in front of some curtains. This was the first image in the series.
I wanted to use pin-up images because they usually offer the viewer a peek into intimate and private space. The curtain is usually a barrier between private and public space. It’s the curtain that I extended in each case, so that they almost completely covered the model, re-enforcing its role as a marker between the public and private. I searched specifically for pin-up images that were set in (semi) domestic sets. I found several medium format negatives from the 50s or 60s but I didn’t want to know anything further about the history of the original photographs.
The images that I used are all quite different and have their own characteristics; they all work in different ways. I was interested in blocking out the main areas of interest in the image – making the focal point of the image disappear and instead make the background engulf the foreground. The model slips away, but of course some part of her is left in the picture (usually the lower legs and feet) and the eroticism of these fragments of the body may become heightened. I wasn’t specifically looking to make a comment about the fetish in relation to photography, but it is something I am interested in. Metz’s ‘Photography and Fetish’ was one of the first texts I read about photography as a student.
With this series, I was looking to produce quite strange images – images that were clearly manipulated without it being clear to what extent – images that were slightly blurred where they should be in focus – images in which the gaze of the viewer is deflected and redirected, putting an overlooked part of the image in the spotlight. The model still teases the viewer to look at the picture and pay attention.
MB: Looking at your CV, you seem to be very productive. Since graduating from the Slade and the RCA, you consistently produced and exhibited your work. What motivates you to be so consistent? What advice would you give to aspiring artists in that regard?
ES: When I was on my art foundation course I remember one of the tutors saying ‘in ten years time only 5% of you will still be making art’. I knew that I would be part of that 5% and it seemed both incredibly depressing and a bit of a relief that 95% would stop. I actually work very slowly, even lazily. But I keep at it. My advice is to just keep at it, even when the work seems to be going nowhere. Everyone has creative highs and lows but you never get back to another high if you just stop working.
MB: I cannot help but ask what your plans are for the future? More specifically, I am curious to hear the direction your work is heading towards?
ES: I never know where my work is heading, but I need to finish a video work called ‘Break-In’ which fragments footage of two films into each other (‘The Birds’ and ‘Night of the Living Dead’). Footage from one film invades the rectangular space of the other film (and vice versa), mirroring the attack on the domestic house in both films. This piece uses frame-by-frame manipulation to make a short sequence; perhaps this will open up new directions for my work to take.
MB: Thank you very much for this interview.
This interview was originally published at photomonitor.co.uk.
Chad States’s recently published book Cruising is a collection of photographs that depict gay men looking for a sexual encounter with other men. Photographed in parks, wooden roadside groves or public restrooms across America, the photographs represent a hidden yet equally visible act of sexual transgression that operates on code words, gestures or simple eye contact. By literally uncovering gay subculture through the foliage of trees and bushes, the photographs are as visually compelling as they are provocative.
States’s series of photographs alludes to an intriguing power exchange: the subjects that he photographs are on the lookout for anonymous sex, yet the photographer, too, is on the lookout for taking photographs of complete strangers. It is quite evident from the photographs that those frequenting these spaces are there to look but also to be looked at. The photographer thus becomes a willing agent between an act of voyeurism and an act of exhibitionism. The fine difference between who is the voyeur or exhibitionist is at times unclear. Indeed, the most eerie images in the series are those in which the gaze of the subject is directed back towards the camera. The photographer, or the hunter, metaphorically becomes the hunted by his subject.
The lush greenery in many of the images visually situates the work in post-impressionist painting. The work of Henri Rousseau, for instance, similarly draws the viewer’s gaze into multiple planes of opulent nature and ‘wilderness’. Rousseau often emphasized the wild with predatory animals such as a tiger strutting towards the foreground of the image. In States’ photographs, the men’s bodies partially visible through trees and bushes signify the predatory dimension in cruising. Rather than nature, it is the sexual transgression, the promiscuity and perhaps the randomness of this encounter (between strangers but also between the photographer and his subjects) that signifies the ‘wild’ in States’ photographs.
While complicating a distinction between voyeurism and exhibitionism, States’ photographs also collapse a clear distinction between the private and the public. The parks and woodlands in the photographs are, by definition, public spaces. Yet partial nudity or vague allusions to sex constitute an activity more commonly associated with a private setting. In other words, if States’s photographs are provocative, I would argue that it is not as much what they depict, but rather, it is that they collapse the assumed boundaries between a private act literally performed in public.
Here, States’s work has more in common with the paintings of Édouard Manet. Particularly Manet’s influential painting The Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeuner sur l’herbe), which depicts a female nude and a scantily dressed female bather on a picnic with two fully dressed men, can be seen to similarly interrogate the juxtaposition between the private with the public. With this body of work, States is clearly pushing against historical, social and cultural norms associated with sexuality and gender. States does not completely inverse these norms as much as he questions them via the photograph.
This blog post was first published on the foam blog.