SHE and ‘the nude’

Being a teacher is an everyday learning experience. We’re challenged in very different ways: either because we need to learn how to teach, either because we need to find ways to potentiate their vision. They trust us and that’s a huge responsibility. When I started at it, 6 years ago, I struggled to find my place, but students helped me figure out how I could be most helpful and since then I’ve tried to push them (I’m aware sometimes in a harsh manner), to help bring to light what seems to be, at the time, most truthful to them. Of course this happens only with a few: those I’m able to understand. I think when we fail to understand our students, we also fail at teaching. Although I try my best to help them articulate their voices, at the end of the day I still fail to understand some of them.

As I’ve mentioned here before, some themes are recurrent amidst visual art students and the nude is one of those. Often we start to see some nudity when students are asked to create self-portraits. It’s not gender specific, both boys and girls seem to equate nudity with what they consider to be “most authentic” about them. Having said that, it’s more common to see that kind of nudity in female self portraits. Talking to a friend and colleague, a couple of days ago, we were precisely acknowledging how much we, as women, are taking a step backwards in our understanding of how the notion of empowerment relates to the promotion of our nude selves. If we have a quick look at facebook profile imagery, we’ll quickly realize how nudity plays a decisive role in it. 

In general, I’m very empathetic with the self-portrait of the nude, for I was one of those students – for years obsessed with the idea that portraying the nude was somehow a way to a more universal representation of me, as a young female struggling to find her place; mainly because clothes have the particularity of situating us in a more deterministic dimension. Clothes have the power of giving us a cultural identity as if, somehow, without them, we were suddenly undressed of (part of) that cultural burden.

Although I’ve stopped showcasing photographs of the nude, I never stopped photographing my undressed body and I still feel, when looking at those portraits, that they are the most genuine representations of how that corporeal matter relates to who I am. But this is just one side of the relation with the nude, meaning: the relation of the author with the representation of his/her own body.

© Sofia Silva, Land of branches, from The Orchestra, 2011.

In one of the schools where I teach, students are given an assignment (by another tutor) to photograph a stranger, nude, in a studio setting. They often end up showing me what they do and not once was their approach anything but unoriginal and, sometimes, awkward. Could it be any different? Maybe, considering that particular setting, the answer would have to be ‘no’, but in a different school, a student has proven that photographing the nude can be done in a very different way.

Bárbara is a fragile figure, with her long face and hair hovering over her tinny body. Last year she showed us a series of photographs she had made with her mother and grandmother (four of those photographs are reproduced bellow) and it was one of those challenging moments, for we were forced to consider HER, in all seriousness, maybe for the first time. Who was her? How could that girl express herself with such honesty? How could she relate to those familiar bodies in such a truthful way? What was she able to see that the majority of us don’t? We ended up helping her transform those photographs into very dark and dense platinum & palladium prints, wish we feel highlighted some of the darker qualities that are characteristic to her approach to the nude.

What surprised me (us) in these photographs is how soulful this tension is and how fragile it becomes in the darker images. How dramatic, yet simple. And yes, I feel they sort of replicate an idea of fading. Not death, per se, but an idea that something is on the verge of being lost or decaying. As far as I see it, whether these bodies are fading into shadow or into light, they all fade into blue.

This year, Bárbara came back with a different project about the nude. This time she decided to address the objectification of the male body, mainly in advertisement. She felt disgusted by those artificial shapes and so she decided to photograph the male nude, to challenge her perspective and see what she could see. What is featured below is just a very small glimpse into that work, but enough to showcase her approach. To sum it up, in a way Bárbara ended up projecting female forms into the male body (the framing, the color cast, etc.) and that posed another set of questions about the various dimensions that are contained in the representation of the nude.

Although this is not disruptive work, in respect to the specificities of the medium itself, I’ll try to argue why her perspective challenges our notions about the photographic representation of the nude. 

In the West, most of us live in a phallocentric society, where cultural myths associate man with life and woman with death. Eroticism is a dimension that we also associate with vitality, whether it tends to promote desire, to act as a subversive social critic or if it is intended to disrupt political concepts. Whether we’re talking about female or male bodies, in the sphere of the public eye, that gaze is almost always a male one. It’s not our fault, though that doesn’t mean we’re not responsible for it. When I mean it’ not our fault is because both genres grew up seeing women’s bodies objectified, though the consequences for men and women are quite different. For women it creates pressure. For some women, who fall victim of that stereotype and who aren’t given the opportunity to have a critical approach to their existence, it also sets their place in society, in a submissive position to the male gaze. For men, on the other hand, growing up in a culture that promotes the objectification of women legitimates their dominant position towards them (of course, a critical make existence will be emancipated as well).

In an article by Griselda Pollock, entitled Photographing Atrocity: Becoming Iconic?, the author evokes Freud, Aby Warburg and Didi-Huberman to argue that some of the most iconic photographic registers of atrocity are “bearable” because they equate death with the feminine. Reflecting on the imagery that survived the concentration camps, Pollock questions the “erotic connotations” that seam to make a photograph of naked women about to die, a “bearable tragedy” (instead of “an unbearable horror”, as she puts it). At some point, calling to mind Kevin Carter’s famous Pulitzer image of the vulture and the famine Sudanese girl, Pollock suggests that the phallocentric myth that is encrusted in our society is also present in the “gender relations” that are usually depicted in Photographs of suffering and/or atrocity. 

It may seem that I’m deviating from the subject – the subject being the nude and, in particular, Bárbara‘s take on it -, but I’ll soon make my point. Throughout the (yet) brief history of photographic expression, the portrait of the nude has served different ends, but rarely does one come across a representation whose dynamics aren’t based on the idea of desire, being that the dynamics of such desire are mainly masculine. Even if we think about the cliché of the maternal portrait or the pregnant woman, I think it’s fair to say that the subjective eye usually falls on the male gaze. I also think it’s fair to say that the portrait of the nude has been tinted by an invisible problematic, that of nude bodies being objects that “belong” to someone. Let’s try and look at two examples: 1) Alfons Walde‘s portraits of naked women, c. 1940; 2) Jodi Bieber‘s project Real Beauty, c. 2008.

In an article by Rebekka Reuter about Walde’s photographs of the female body (You’d have to dance first), Reuter states that he used the camera “not only to interpret, but to stage, indeed to a certain extent to penetrate”. The author goes on to contextualize Walde’s approach to his subjects (his wives and lovers), stating that in his Agfacolor portraits we can see the artist’s critical take on “monogamous, strictly bourgeois conventions” but, as she then adds, “awareness of this comes more with knowledge of Walde’s relationship to women than in what is depicted itself, which, for all its eccentricity, is characterized by a peculiarly cranky conservativeness”. What Reuter calls “conservativeness” is precisely the phallocentric symbolism that is all over his photographs. In her own words:

The appearances of these women, their anticipation of the image in putting their bodies on show, can be taken as classic examples of the gender-specific differentiation of the gaze, of the dichotomy of gazing male subject on the one hand, and of observed female subject on the other.

So what can one find in Walde’s photographs that could exist beyond that dimension of the male gaze? What aesthetic qualities make these portraits original besides the novelty of the color? Are they “authentic” works of art or should we see them as artifacts that serve a specific finality, namely his erotic desire?

Jodi Bieber‘s project Real Beauty proposes a reflection around the stereotypes that tend to dictate how women “should look like”. She sets on to do a collection of portraits of women of different ages, ethnicity and body shapes. But what does she accomplish? Is the intention to make the viewer think that they all look alike, that “all woman” have “the right to feel sexy, that mature human can be beautiful in very different manners? But what about those poses and that lingerie, what stereotypes are those choices intended to question? And why are they trapped in a domestic environment, against wardrobes, over their couches and beds or lying on the ground? Doesn’t this construction replicate the male voyeur? Isn’t the distance between the photographer and the subject just too ordinary? Shouldn’t the framing of these bodies matter and be a statement?

To cut this short, my perspective is that Bárbara is able to do something that for her is “just natural” (it really is) and for the majority of us proves to be quite difficult: she is able to live outside the phallocentric dimension. In doing that, not only does SHE reject (in an unconscious level) the capitalization of the nude and the power relationships that derive from that, but SHE also manages not to project a feminist take that could easily provoke a need to emphasize the female body and its sexuality. On that note, something that is also very clear in Bárbara‘s photographs is that they live beyond the erotic, their soul and truth may be potentiated by the nude, but it’s almost as if the nude was not its subject. It’s about mutation, transformation, tension to arise and to fall, but it’s not about a sexual energy, albeit the dynamics are sometimes the same.

I grew up in a very masculine environment and today I’m very much aware of how that impacted my relationship to other women. My father was and still is a well-intentioned man but with very low emotional intelligence. I have a brother and most of my friends were men. My brother’s friends, with whom I spent a considerable amount of time, were and still are mostly men. I was part of two all-men bands. At some point during my teenage years I became more comfortable dressing like a man, smoking like a man, drinking like a man. I used to enjoy this connections to the male universe, as if that was proof that I wasn’t interested in girl’s issues (now  I understand the meaning of all-girls schools). What I see now is that being around boys all the time brought me to internalize the male gaze and how sexual desire is such a big part of it. That gaze goes between us women. Well, some of us.

Bárbara, being from a different generation, context, etc., seems to live beyond this male gaze. It’s as if she escaped the realm of male desire. One doesn’t need to be an object of that desire to make sense of it. It’s everywhere in our society, but somehow SHE escaped that realm. What stance is she in then? We don’t know, but we’re hoping SHE continues to challenge our perspective on the nude.

≡ Art produced by men about men (?) ≡

133_kmb-cover2-kleinExhibition catalog, 110 × 165 mm, 272 pages, October 2013.

A post about a group exhibition themed The Weak Sex – How Art Pictures the New Male, held @ Kunstmuseum Bern from 18.10.2013 to 09.02.2014.

alexishunter--masculinity-malexishunter--masculinity© Alexis Hunter, Approach to Fear: XVII: Masculinisation of Society – exorcise 1977.

Excerpt from Preface and Acknowledgments Matthias Frehner, Director of the Kunstmuseum Bern and Klaus Vogel, Director of the Deutsches Hygiene-Museum Dresden:

Those who lived through their childhood and youth as members of the baby-boomer generation in the period of the late nineteen-fifties to the mid-seventies, as we did, received a clear view of the world along the way. It was the Cold War. There were precise dividing lines, and it was possible to completely separate good and evil, right and wrong, from one other. The division of roles between men and women was regulated in a way that was just as self-evident. For many children of this time, it was natural that the father earned the money while the mother was at home around the clock and, depending on her social position, went shopping and took care of the laundry herself, or left the housework to employees in order to be able to dedicate herself to “nobler” tasks such as, for instance, beauty care. Family and social duties were clearly distributed between husband and wife: the “strong” sex was responsible for the material basics of existence and for the social identity of the family. The “weak” or also fair sex, in contrast, was responsible for the “soft” factors inside: children, housekeeping, and the beautification of the home. The year 1968 did away with bourgeois concepts of life. Feminism and emancipation anchored the equality of men and women in law. And since the nineteen-sixties, art has also dealt intensively and combatively with feminism and gender questions.

bild5_export_weibel-web© Peter Weibel with Valie EXPORT, Peter Weibel Aus der Mappe der Hundigkeit (Peter Weibel From the Underdog File), 1969.

Since VALIE EXPORT walked her partner Peter Weibel on a leash like a dog in their public action that unsettled the public in 1968, legions of creators of art, primarily of the female sex, have questioned the correlations between the genders and undertaken radical reassessments. The formerly “strong” gender has thus long since become a “weak” one. “Nevertheless, the exhibition The Weak Sex: How Art Pictures the New Male is not dedicated first and foremost to the battlefield of the genders. Nor is the gender question, which has so frequently been dealt with, posited in the foreground. The Weak Sex is instead dedicated to man as object of research. In what state does he find himself now that his classical role has been invalidated? How does he behave after the shift from representative external appearance to work within the family unit? And where does he stand in the meantime in the midstof so many strong women? What has become of the proud and selfassured man who once signed the school report cards with praise or reproach as head of the family? What has become of the XY species since then is presented— insightfully, sarcastically, and wittily—in the exhibition by Kathleen Bühler.

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Excerpt from Stronger and Weaker Sexes: Remarks on the Exhibition, by Kathleen Bühler (Curator Kunstmuseum Bern):

In 1908, the Genevan politician and essayist William Vogt wrote the book Sexe faible (The Weak Sex), in which he examines the “natural” weaknesses and inabilities of the female gender. Intended as a “response to absurd exaggerations and feminist utopias,” since then the catchy title has shaped the battle of the sexes as a dictum. Like Otto Weininger’s misogynistic study Geschlecht und Charakter (Sex and Character, 1903), Sexe faible is one of the texts from the turn of the previous century that justified the legal, political, and social subordination of women based on their anatomical and, according to the opinion of the author, thus also intellectual inferiority in comparison with men. The perception of women as the “weak sex” persisted tenaciously. It is first in recent years that this ascription has slowly been shifted to men, as for instance in the report by neurobiologist Gerald Huther called Das schwache Geschlecht und sein Gehirn (The Weak Sex and His Brain) published in 2009. Polemics has long since yielded to statistics, and the most recent biological discoveries are gaining currency, such as the fact that male babies are already at risk in the womb because they lack a second X chromosome. This genetic “weakness” would apparently lead seamlessly to a social weakness, since males more frequently have problems in school, turn criminal, and die earlier. 4 In addition to the findings on biologically based weaknesses also comes the social, economic, and political challenge, which has for some years been discussed as a “crisis of masculinity.”

VAW11_Eroeffnung_Reflecting_Reality_11© Gelitin, Ständerfotos – Nudes (Standing Photos – Nudes), 2000.

(…) After various exhibitions in recent years were dedicated to gender relations, gender imprinting, or the social latitude in performative stagings of gender, the exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Bern focuses exclusively on men in contemporary art for the first time. It brings together the points of view of male and female artists who deal either with their own experiences with men and/or being a man, or with an examination of the images of men that are available. This exhibition has been long overdue. Nonetheless, what first needs to be overcome is the perception that “gender” themes are a woman’s matter and that only marginalized positions have addressed their social gender. Hegemonic male types—thus men who, according to general opinion, embody the dominant masculine ideal most convincingly—have only been reflected in public through media for a relatively short time, even though the male gender is also a sociocultural construct, just like that of women, transgender, or inter-gender individuals. What comes to be expressed here is the invisibility of norms. As is generally known, it is those social groups that hold the most power that actually expose their own status the least.

sarah-lucas-smoking-from-self-portraits-1990e280931998-web© Sarah Lucas, Smoking, 1998. From Self Portraits 1990-1999.

bild4_urs_lc3a5thi-web© Urs Lüthi, Lüthi weint auch für Sie (Lüthi also cries for you), 1970.

⁞ How Kalen Hollomon’s collages reflect the general confusion about the core of a subversive attitude ⁞

Trying to make a point with digital cut and paste, here are excerpts of reviews and interviews with collage artist Kalen Hollomon, accompanied by images of his playful work.

kh3© Kalen Hollomon

kh1© Kalen Hollomon

NYMAG: […] Hollomon claims it’s been “embarrassing” to take the iPhone photos that garner him thousands of likes each day and says he’s not interested in deconstructing materialism — “I love the price of things!” Instead, he seeks to create “sexy, but unsettling” combinations of men and women. […]


Alex Ronan: What is it about high fashion interests you?


Kalen Hollomon: I get to force the collaboration that happens between the designer and the person wearing the clothes. I used a photograph of a homeless man, gave him a pair of heels, and added the world Chanel. Suddenly, the guy looked fabulous. That’s what fashion does.

kh2© Kalen Hollomon

DAZED: The unorthodox and taboo are thoroughly explored through New York-based artist Kalen Hollomon’s tongue-in-cheek collages, which seek to blur the boundaries of prefixed homogenisation permeating our society. Hollomon’s subjects range from subway riders juxtaposed with clippings of cut out nudes and unassuming street-goers superimposed onto Celine, Prada and Chanel advertising, which sell for $300 a piece. “I am always concerned with what lies beneath the surface – with relativity, perception, sexuality and pop culture,” says Hollomon. “My images are reality manipulation, manipulating other people’s identities. The idea of and ability to alter the value or meaning of an image or object by adding or subtracting elements is really exciting to me – adding or taking away elements from something until it becomes the sexiest it can be at that moment.” […]

Kalen-Hollomon-Collage-16© Kalen Hollomon

THE EDITORIAL MAGAZINE: Kalen Hollomon (@kalen_hollomon) is taking collage to New York City’s streets and its underground, superimposing clippings from fashion and vintage porno magazines onto unsuspecting subway riders and mundane city scenes. […] It’s clear that many of the people don’t even notice they are getting their picture taken – who can really tell the difference between someone snapping a pic or playing candy crush during their commute? It’s that candidness that lends these images their power, and by mixing in collage, Hollomon adds a surreal wit to this new genre of social-documentary photography. His photos are really funny, especially the ones where he superimposes naked butts onto unassuming pedestrians, creating the same simple absurdity as that Kids in The Hall “Headcrusher” skit where Mark McKinney squints his eye and squishes people’s heads between his thumb and forefinger. […]


Whitney Mallett: But you’re both remixing fashion imagery in a way [reference to Joel Kyack]. Do you see collage as having a radical or disruptive potential?


Kalen Hollomon: I try to create something that looks beautiful. You can create a powerful image that at first looks nice and maybe is a bit funny but if you look a bit deeper, it also might have something more to say than that. And to make someone question like, why they find it attractive, for them to say, “this looks great but wait it’s weird, I shouldn’t think this looks attractive, but I do.”

kalen6© Kalen Hollomon

kalen-holloman-051© Kalen Hollomon

COMPLEX: […] Collage artist Kalen Hollomon is not only able to sell his work on Instagram, he’s used the platform to build a community of engaged fans and get covetable commissions. This year, he’s Capsule New York’s Spring/Summer 2015 featured artist, where he gets to employ his signature style of uniting vintage fashion advertisements, porn from the ’80s and ’90s, and found photography. […]


Cedar Pasori: What intrigues you about combining the past and the present with your art?


Kalen Hollomon: It’s the potential to alter perspective or perception of both the past and the present. If it was sexy then, it’s sexy now. There’s maybe a different presentation, but there’s still that feeling, and it’s exciting to see past and present interact with each other.
[…]


Cedar Pasori: In drawing out “what’s beneath the surface” with your work, how do you aim to do this with men’s style and masculinity, specifically?


Kalen Hollomon: I try to celebrate masculinity and at the same time make it sexy in a feminine way — a type of non-aggressive masculine sexuality. I’m attracted to achieving this with minimal changes, something as simple as putting a pair of heels on a gentlemen; that can really change the vibe of an image.

10607968_298795413633933_547278544_n© Kalen Hollomon

THE STANDARD: […] Hollomon’s is a brilliant and timely innovation, one that seamlessly merges high and low to maximum WTF effect, and subversively undermines our ordered sense of reality. Seemingly effortless, a closer look reveals a methodical, canny eye for composition, a surrealist bent, and a cutting wit. The result has been a steady buzz in both the Art and Fashion worlds, and 70,000+ followers who get a kick out of his trickery. […]

٠ Love & Chance ٠

Chance having been defined as “the encounter of an external causality and an internal finality,” we have to ascertain whether a certain kind of “encounter” – in this case the essential one, that is, by definition the most subjectivized one of all – can be considered under the angle of chance without our immediately seeming to be the question. in L’Amour Fou, by Andre Bréton

GMA 3988© Georges Hugnet, Portrait automatique de l’automate d’Albert-le-Grand [Automatic Portrait of the Automaton of Albertus Magnus], 1938

81.187_01_d02© Georges Hugnet, Initiation préliminaire aux arcanes de la forêt (First Initiation to the …, 1936

GMA 3989© Georges Hugnet, Untitled (Suite of Collages), n.d.

Era nosso propósito situar o debate a um nível sensivelmente mais elevado, ou seja, em suma, no ponto fulcral daquela hesitação que nos assalta o espírito ao pretendermos definir o que será o «acaso». Haviamos previamente estudado a evolução, assaz lenta, de tal conceito, ate aos nossos dias, e assim partíramos – da ideia antiga que o encarava como uma «causa acidental de efeitos excepcionais ou acessórios, revestindo a aparência da finalidade» (Aristóteles), passáramos depois a ideia de um «acontecimento provocado pela combinação ou o encontro de fenómenos pertencentes a series independentes na ordem da causalidade» (Cournot), ideia de um «acontecimento rigorosamente determinado, de tal modo, porem, que uma dissemelhança extremamente pequena nas suas causas redundaria numa diferença considerável, no domínio dos factos» (Poincare), até chegarmos a concepção dos materialistas modernos, segundo a qual o acaso seria a forma da necessidade exterior se manifestar, ao abrir caminho através do inconsciente humano (isto para tentar interpretar e conciliar, com uma certa audácia, o pensamento de Engels e de Freud, sobre este assunto).in L’Amour Fou, by Andre Bréton

hugn_34_wr_hugnet_spumiferes33© Georges Hugnet, Le Pyrodon Glaciare [The Pyrodonic Iceling], from the series La Vie Amoureuse des Spumifères [The Love life of the Spumifers], 1947-48

hugn_55_wr_hugnet_spumiferes19© Georges Hugnet, La Bisquelle Rieuse [The Laughing Duowatt], from the series La Vie amoureuse des Spumifères [The Love Life of the Spumifers], 1947-48

hugn_15_wr_hugnet_spumiferes38© Georges Hugnet, La Mailloche Dorée [The Golden Meshlican], from the series La Vie Amoureuse des Spumifères [The Love Life of the Spumifers], 1947-48

┐ Vilma Pimenoff └

© Vilma Pimenoff, Untitled (figures-left + beings-right), from The Dark Collection

© Vilma Pimenoff, Untitled (beings), from The Dark Collection

© Vilma Pimenoff, Untitled, from the series Demoiselles de Paris

“Pierce called indexical the process of signification (semiosis) in which the signifier is bound to the referent not by a social convention ( = “symbol”), not necessarily by some similarity ( = “icon”), but by an actual contiguity or connection in the world: the lightning is the index of the storm. In this sense, film and photography are close to each other, both are prints of real objects, prints left on a special surface by a combination of light and chemical action. This indexicality, of course, leaves room for iconic aspects, as the chemical image often looks like the object (Pierce considered photography as an index and an icon). It leaves much room for symbolic aspects as well, such as the more or less codified patterns of treatment of the image (framing, lighting, and so forth) and of choice or organization of its contents. What is indexical is the mode of production itself, the principle of the taking. And at this point, after all, a film is only a series of photographs. But it is more precisely a series with supplementary components as well, so that the unfolding as such tends to become more important than the link of each image with its referent.

(…)
Photography has a third character in common with death: the snapshot, like death, is an instantaneous abduction of the object out of the world into another world, into another kind of time-unlike cinema which replaces the object, after the act of appropriation, in an unfolding time similar to that of life. The photographic take is immediate and definitive, like death and like the constitution of the fetish in the unconscious, fixed by a glance in childhood, unchanged and always active later. Photography is a cut inside the referent, it cuts off a piece of it, a fragment, a part object, for a long immobile travel of no return. Dubois remarks that with each photograph, a tiny piece of time brutally and forever escapes its ordinary fate, and thus is protected against its own loss. I will add that in life, and to some extent in film, one piece of time is indefinitely pushed backwards by the next: this is what we call “forgetting.” The fetish, too, means both loss (symbolic castration) and protection against loss. Peter Wollen states this in an apt simile: photography preserves fragments of the past “like flies in amber.”6 Not by chance, the photographic act (or acting, who knows?) has been frequently compared with shooting, and the camera with a gun.”

excerpt from the article Photography and Fetish, by Christian Metz, published in October, Vol. 34 (Autumn, 1985), pp. 81-90

more of Vilma‘s work here

┐ Gemma Marmalade └

© Gemma Marmalade, from the series Animals, 2008

© Gemma Marmalade, from the series Animals, 2008

“Animal is a series of photographic portraits of a woman Gemma met on an internet dating/networking website in 2006. Without knowing anything of the artist or her motivations to make contact, the woman engaged in sending photographs of herself via mobile phone, some erotic, some banal.


Over a period of nearly two years, the artist received 69 pictures before contacting Jane.


Fascinated by her character and the disclosure that she used the offer of contact as an “anonymous online confessional”, Gemma learnt that she, from Italian Catholic descent, was an ‘executive escort’. She described her bitterness towards her family’s rejection of her, the disillusion with relationships and people at large; she prefers the honest company of animals. A trained vet, eloquent and darkly witty, Animal aimed to illustrate her in a way that re-established her engagement with her own sexuality, challenge her occupational feelings and allowed her to be the literal “sexual creature” she so desired to be.


Utilising the canon of Surrealism’s anthropomorphic gestures and grandiose Italian Renaissance art aesthetic, Animal brings a hyper-surreality to the commissioned portrait.”

Gemma’s statement

More of Gemma’s work here

║ Deborah Paauwe ║

brokenmelody

© Deborah Paauwe, Broken Melody, from the series The Crying Room, 2006

crimsonautograph

© Deborah Paauwe, Crimson Autograph, from the series Double Dutch, 2002

“Deborah Paauwe’s imagery circulates between art photography and erotica as the artist seduces and assaults the gaze. Paauwe engages with a labyrinthine gaze that Lacan charts as a map full of traps and misrecognitions

In this series of photographs the artist accentuates the screen aspects of the Lacanian gaze, framing this quite literally for the viewer by using a veil to shroud and figures. The body is seen through a screen of translucent material, enticing the voyeuristic desires of the spectator. The bodies are soaked in and through the veil, making indents and traces in the material, as the subject becomes index.

The veil produces a sensuous affect at the same time as it shrouds the image giving it an auratic, ghostly shield. The veiling of the female form has sensual, religious and ideological aspects: it is simultaneously erotic and sinister

The erotic aspects of the photographs position them within a discourse about the objectification of the female form for the male gaze. The images are both dangerous and playful. They capture a coming of age, a transition from childhood to adult sexuality, and they engage with and unsettle the gaze through association with larger issues. Paauwe plays with the gaze and the construction of the female subject by getting her models to perform scenes. The performative aspects of the photographs need to be considered – it is this artifice that separates the images from ‘real’ life. There is no document being recorded. These are not real scenes captured by the camera as a mute witness. These pictures are made as art. Some consciously reference the history of photography. Porcelain, for example, could be read as a feminisation of Edward Weston’s famous photograph of his son, Neil, titled Nude Torso (1922), that was appropriated by Sherrie Levine in the 1980s to make a statement about great masters and authorship. However, Paauwe’s rendition goes beyond parody. It is a homage to the flesh but whereas Weston and other modernist photographers stressed the form of the image, Paauwe seems to make the flesh ephemeral. The touch of the fingertips on the chest is delicate but haunting. The tips of the fingers appear bruised or dirty and they set up an unnerving contrast to the clean white flesh and the lace bodice.” (…)

Anne Marsh

To see more of Deborah’s work click here