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.

Appropriation: a matter of intimacy, not authorship

The other day, while being guided through an exhibition by its own curator, I asked him why a particular work was being showcased as a slideshow when the author in question is exceptional at photographic printing processes. The answer was clear: “I really don’t care about the materiality of the work”. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, for what interests the curator is the photographic discourse, not the authenticity of the works. For me, both as viewer as well as an image-maker, I care about the materiality and the sensuous tone of the work.

The popularity of the photographic discourse is not new and the digital era is not to blame for its success. It may be true that the virtual nature of the images helps promote its lack of material appreciation, but the reasons for the cult of the discourse run deeper, and they affect all the realms of the art.

I found myself thinking about this today because of a particular event that has to do with appropriation. So let me explain: a while back I wrote a post about a project that had won a photographic competition here in Portugal. Today I find myself surprisingly going back to that same competition, but because of another author, who at the time won an honorable mention with a project named Atlas. The author is Flávio Nuno Joaquim. We did our undergraduate course at the same school, though in different years. When the awards came out I didn’t pay much attention to his work, for it doesn’t really interest me, but for chance today I came across a link to his newest book featuring that project and I decided to take a peek.

For my surprise, I found some photographs of me, naked, full frontal, in his book. I did know that Atlas was a collection of images found in the trash in the labs, at the school where we once studied and I now teach. The panels I had seen had scraps from different processual origins, but they mainly alluded to the repetition and methodology at work, when dealing with photographic printing processes.

So when, in the middle of those scraps, I saw these images of an old work of mine I couldn’t help but wonder what the hell where they doing there, and how the hell did he have them. In the presentation text to his work, we can read that his gathering of works started in 2010, something which is not true in the case relating to my work, for I left school earlier than that.

I asked Flávio how he got hold of them and he explained that he found them in the garbage. And, I confess, I am really bothered by this. Not because I “shot” the photographs (I couldn’t care less about proprietary issues), but because my naked self is portrayed in those images. At some point I thought I had the right to decide whether or not I still want to show these images, and I don’t.

The fact that he allegedly found these proofs in the garbage raises another issue, for I wasn’t the one throwing them out. That wouldn’t happen. Whether I’m throwing mine or someone else’s work out, first I tear it apart. I hope this gesture prevents the appropriation of some intimate space one wants to keep to oneself. So apparently (I can’t see how it can be any different) my former teachers were the ones throwing these photographs into the garbage, and Flávio did nothing more that grab them.

Then what goes thru a person’s mind when he/she decides to include an image of someone’s naked body in his/her book without approaching the “owner” of the body herself? Is it that hard to understand that the performer and the person are not two different universes? Is it that hard to understand that a self-portrait is, in fact, a portrait of the self? Has the self lost the right to preserve the interior space that’s his/hers?

Let me repeat: I really don’t give a damn about copyrights and authorship, but I believe in dialogue and in respecting the other. Some time ago an author I had showcased here at Nihilsentimentalgia emailed me asking if I could take down her work, for she no longer recognized herself in that particular series. It really doesn’t matter what I think of her request, what matters is that she reached out to me and the right thing to do is to respect her wishes.

The funny thing about those images Flávio appropriated from me is that they were themselves appropriated. I titled them “After Saudek”, for they were inspired by Jan Saudek’s work. But not only were they born out of this referentiality, they were also a turning point in the way I photograph my body. In those days, I used to tell myself that the body in the picture was not really mine, but a general body, a referent. Having to look at the images for quite some time, for I had to prepare them for an exhibition, I started to see myself in them. In therapy, those images became an issue. I ended up burning the negatives. So, you see, they are part of my interior space, my intimacy and the history of my affections and it’s hard to see them included in a catalogue of repetitions, a catalogue deeply rooted into the photographic discourse, not the work.

The author and the work are not two different things. True it happens when only the artistic discourse it at play. It’s not that in “authentic art” the work mirrors the author or is in some way autobiographical. What happens is that the work of art takes the place of the author. The problem here is Flávio’s ethos, or lack thereof. Because Flávio decided to omit to me that my undressed body would be on display in his Atlas (not for lack of opportunity, one should stress), I am now, once again confronted with those photographs traveling the space of internet, exhibitions and so on.

Fortunately, this is no fatality. Authorship is one question, but privacy is another and it doesn’t really matter who took those photographs of my naked body or if they have copyrights or not, I do have the right to defend my privacy and no one should have the right to appropriate it and turn it into a public object without my consent.

Photographers as Enterprises: McCurry vs Mapplethorpe

While there’s little in McCurry’s work that I appreciate, I love Mapplethorpe’s work. so why bring them together?

Recently, due to McCurry‘s huge exibition at Le Venaria Reale,  in Italy, a discussion arouse about “his” use of Photoshop. The story is as follows: while visiting the exhibition, photographer Paolo Viglione noticed something odd in one photograph and decided to share his thoughts with the world. What that photograph denounces is not Photoshop overuse but, instead, its misuse. The editing error made me think of how disconnected McCurry must be to his own work and how his enterprise came about.
Avana, Cuba, 2014. Photogaph shared by Viglione.

There are several paradigms at issue here, one of them being the circumstances that made this error possible. Yesterday I watched the latest documentary about Mapplethorpe (Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, 2016) and, I have to confess, it caught me of my guard. I had never thought about the enterprise around him. Does it change the way I look at his pictures or how they affect me? No way. But it does make me think of how an author’s success may trigger a less honest modus operandi.

The source of the making, affects it product. In McCurry‘s case, his lack of care and attention ended up allowing photographs such as the above to be seen by millions; in Mapplethorpe‘s case, his hunger for success made him compromise his more subversive attitude, towards the end. He wanted to photograph as much as he could, but the images were becoming ever more sterile, THE THING that the locus of his work was not.

In both cases there’s a team in charge of processing, retouching and printing, but Mapplethorpe would never apologize for his creative freedom and would never allow something to be showed without his approval. After the storm about McCurry’s use of Photoshop hit the fan, people started to search for more Photoshop atrocities in his work and there they were…

As PetaPixel published the story, McCurry finally gave a statement, that goes as follows:

My career started almost forty years ago when I left home to travel and photograph throughout South Asia. I went into Afghanistan with a group of Mujahideen in 1979, and thus became a photojournalist when news magazines and newspapers picked up my pictures, published them around the world, and gave me assignments to provide more images of the war.
Later on, I covered other wars and civil conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere, and produced photo essays for magazines, but like other artists, my career has gone through many stages.
Today I would define my work as visual storytelling, because the pictures have been shot in many places, for many reasons, and in many situations. Much of my recent work has been shot for my own enjoyment in places I wanted to visit to satisfy my curiosity about the people and the culture. For example, my Cuba work was taken during four personal trips.
My photography is my art, and it’s gratifying when people enjoy and appreciate it. I have been fortunate to be able to share my work with people around the world.
I try to be as involved as much as I can in reviewing and supervising the printing of my work, but many times the prints are printed and shipped when I am away. That is what happened in this case. It goes without saying that what happened with this image was a mistake for which I have to take responsibility.
I have taken steps to change procedures at my studio which will prevent something like this from happening again.

Although he takes responsibility for this one mistake, he doesn’t explain if the changes in the other images are also mistakes, or if they are intentional. He also states that the lab technician(s) responsible for the mistake has been fired. But how is it possible that his team feels like they have the creative freedom to make such changes without him ever having consent to them? Is that even a possibility?

I’d like to reinforce that my question here has nothing to do with Photoshop retouching. As Jeremy Gray writes, at imaging-resource.comthere is a difference between doing work for photojournalistic purposes, such as for National Geographic, and doing work for personal artistic reasons. A photographer should not be held to the same standard of editing for their personal work as they should be when presenting images for journalistic purposes. Reporting a news story and telling your own tale are not the same thing, and Steve McCurry ought to be allowed to do both, supposing that he in fact is responsible for the removing elements in any of his images.” Unless we’re talking about photojournalism I really don’t care about what image-makers such as McCurry do with saturation and what not. The question is the ethos of a man who acts as if he is the CEO of an enterprise, but then wants people to see him as an artist, a visual storyteller.

Two blocks from my house, a gallery (Barbado), is exhibiting a series of McCurry‘s work on India. Because he was in Portugal for the opening, several newspapers went for an interview with “the guy who shot the afghan girl”. I’m always amazed at the lack of critical awareness in the portuguese media. It’s just astonishing. Because a famous photographer comes to Lisbon to exhibit, no one will dare take a critical look at the photographs?

In the NYT mag, Teju Cole dared a critical approach to McCurry’s work, arguing that his work is full of clichés, his pictures “astonishingly boring”. Cole argues that “the photographs in “India,” all taken in the last 40 years, are popular in part because they evoke an earlier time in Indian history, as well as old ideas of what photographs of Indians should look like, what the accouterments of their lives should be: umbrellas, looms, sewing machines; not laptops, wireless printers, escalators. […] The men are real, of course, but they have also been chosen for how well they work as types.As Pete Brook, from Prison Photography, states: “in a world replete with images made by folks in every corner of the globe, is there any defense for the space taken up by McCurry?

Mapplethorpe didn’t even know how to process his films, and he was no less of a photographer because of that. He was present everywhere, at all times. He lived for his work. Of course that has consequences, at a more human level, but that’s not the issue here. Mapplethorpe had a vision and he was true to it, even when he got greedier, his photographs follow that greed. The images got sharper, color came into play, the New York star system wanted its share of the pie…

© Robert Mapplethorpe, Man in Polyester Suit (1980).
© Robert Mapplethorpe. Mark Stevens (Mr. 10 1/2), 1976.

By the end of Mapplethorpe’s documentary, something grabbed my attention: as we see people preparing for Mapplethorpe’s last exhibition – The Perfect Moment, 1988,  at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia – (which he was unable to attend), curator Janet Kardon states: “I think you can tell whether a show is successful by the sound in the gallery. If people are talking a lot, you know, somehow the show just doesn’t have it. In the Mapplethorpe show, there was silence. You could hear a pin drop.”  

٠ Traci Matlock: the photo-blogger as a postmodern celebrity ٠

Photo-blogger9all images © Tracy Matlock

“[…] there are a few bloggers whom I know only from their blogs. These are blogs I follow because I stumbled onto them, usually by clicking on a link in someone else’s blog. What keeps me coming back is the sheer quality of their online work, and whatever feeling I begin to develop for the personality behind the work. Like a teenage girl following the latest antics of Justin Bieber or Lindsay Lohan, I have devoted a small but significant amount of brain space to these strangers, on a daily or at least weekly basis. And just as that teenage girl thinks of Justin Bieber or Lindsay Lohan as someone she knows on some strange level, these bloggers don’t feel like strangers to me either. Actually, they feel like celebrities—because, as with performers and politicians and athletes, all I know about them are their public faces, the faces they present through their blogs.
So meet my personal Internet celebrity.[Traci Matlock]”

R1-03426-0004all images © Tracy Matlock

JL: Something that fascinates me is the difference between a photo-blog, or at least a good photo-blog, and a photo album on Facebook.
Tracy Matlock: Right. [Laughs]
JL: That you’re constructing, and you’re curating, and what you don’t show is as important as what you do show.
TM: Oh, yes, I definitely agree with that. Not just for me, but I feel that all the time when I look at other people’s work online—especially with photographs, because we see them so often. Now with social networking, we’re inundated by photographs people think are good photographs or attractive photographs or interesting photographs in subject matter. However …
JL: Do you get judgmental about other people’s photos?
TM: Oh, yeah, probably, but in the opposite way that you perhaps are asking. I love other people’s photographs. I’m a sucker. I could stare at other people’s snapshots, and just Facebook photos, for hours. I think that they’re—they’re magic. I mean, I wish that I could make just half of what these random people online accidentally make.

Photo-bloggerPhoto-blogger2all images © Tracy Matlock

JL: There are a couple of themes that you return to again and again. Can I tick them off, and you can tell me what draws you to them? I notice you’ve been taking more photos, or publishing more photos, of strangers, especially from the back.
TM: Yeah, I’m fascinated by it. I absolutely believe it stems from asking people to show themselves to me from the front—that now, I’m really curious as to how they show themselves to me from the back, whether they know it or not.
JL: [How about] shots from the front seat of a car? Is that just because you live in Houston?
TM: I’m utter freedom in a car. It’s so chaotic. I just feel like I exist in a higher plane when I’m in a car, whether I’m driving or not. It’s so fast, and you have absolutely no idea when someone is going to change lanes, or step on the brakes, or … I think it’s extremely beautiful. And I live in a city that allows you to have your windows rolled down all the time. It’s all of that combined. And it’s window light. You’re in this space that is literally surrounded by window light, which is the most beautiful light in existence.
JL: And frames.
TM: Yes! All the time! Your back window, your windshield, your mirror—you have three mirrors in a car; it’s the
very least that you can see at all times.
JL: And, of course, mirrors are also something that come up again and again in your work. Especially yourself in the mirror—but not always yourself.
TM: That’s true, and I think mostly that’s because I really do miss photographing other people. [Laughs] … It’s not the only reason, obviously, but it is something I think about almost every time.

Photo-blogger7Photo-blogger6all images © Tracy Matlock

JL: Another one that’s come up again and again is people viewed through water, people in water. What does water mean to you? That’s like the stupidest question in the world, but it clearly does mean something.
TM: Oh, no, no! I mean, I do think about symbolically what it means, in a lot of ways, but mostly I love the refractions of it. I just love the distortion of the body in any way … I think it’s exquisite. I mean, their figure changes, and morphs into this totally unrecognizable part of themselves, which is more themselves. The refractions of water are tantalizing.
JL: When you say the distortion of the body, that’s something else that comes up. Scars, bruises, striations, often on your own extremities… I feel I owe you a debt of thanks, because you’ve helped me to see as beautiful something that I did not always see as beautiful.

wyDVo1l5L5TLgW9aall images © Tracy Matlock

JL: Do you ever look at a photo, even a self-portrait, and think of yourself as an object?
TM: I try to! I think that’s a really interesting way to think about it, and I try to think about the photos from both angles. I mean, on the same note, I also try to think of photos of other people as the subject, and me as the object, but as the creator, the purveyor of sorts. I do see sometimes the photos that I share of me, and I do see me in them sometimes as the object. I mean, I think it’s necessary sometimes to share work in that way. And it’s fun! I don’t think there’s absolutely anything that I shouldn’t be able to do.
JL: You don’t seem to have a lot of vanity in the way you portray yourself. You’ll show yourself looking puffy, which even famous photographers who are famous for their self-portraits don’t often do.
TM: The photos of me that I share where I’m not … the typical idea of attractive, or held together, or showing myself in a good light—those to me are the most beautiful. The photos of me crying, when my face is swollen, are the photos of me that look the most like me, to me. And I glorify those, not just to glorify my appreciation of those mental states, but also because I think that in those times in which we are kind of ugly, quote-unquote physically ugly, those are the times in which our faces take on this really extraordinary and new dimension. We see ourselves in this way that we don’t get to see people all the time. It’s so intimate, and vulgar-seeming, that it’s really beautiful. My favorite time to see my face is right when I get up in the morning, when my eyes are almost swollen shut, and my nose is all swollen, and my skin color is kind of off … I mean, I swear, when I get up in the morning, and I see my face all swollen, I wish that I could see myself like that for the rest of the day. And I know that it’s because I don’t get to see myself like that very often that that’s my favorite. I’m not used to that gaze, and therefore it’s constantly surprising me, and constantly awakening new senses, and firing new neurons in my head.

excerpts from “Big Giant Red Beating Heart For Chaos: Photo-blogger Traci Matlock” an interview between Jack Lechner and Traci Malock, published in Photography & Culture Volume 4—Issue 3 November 2011 pp. 335–354

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

┐ one little, two little, three little fingers, how many do we need to pull? └

You people who read this blog know that it is unusual for me to make a post about something that I don’t like or to make a negative and/or non constructive criticism (even if by sublimation) about something that I first choose to display. I will, for once (?), use this author’s images in order to make a point: that hyper-formal-aesthetic-overlyexplicit-inyourface-photography is not the way to go, unless you’re in a reality show. This really is what I find pornographic in a lot of phtography-based works today – there is no punctum!



all photographs © Mustafa Sabbagh

Mustafa’s site is here

┐ Hannah Villiger (1951-1997) └

© Hannah Villiger, Untitled, 1980 – C-print from Polaroid

© Hannah Villiger, Sculptural, 1993

© Hannah Villiger, Untitled, 1980/81 – 12 C-prints of polaroids

“When trying to describe physical feelings of any kind, we find ourselves shortchanged by language. I arrived at this conclusion after several, always hopelessly crude attempts to describe
fundamental moments in Hannah Villiger’s oeuvre. The public-at-large is quite capable of registering feelings of repulsion or extreme empathy when blood flows in the movies, when some-one is cut or surgery is performed, or when faced with eroticism, vertigo on a lookout tower or sports—all points on a scale that are clearly designated and defined. But in between lie immense micro-regions, dead lands, where words fail. This is the territory that Hannah Villiger explores. With a well-honed consciousness she masterfully negotiates the overall system of obstruction (of hindrance and enfeeblement). When communication is constantly kept in check, metaphor comes to the rescue. Perhaps this is why Hannah Villiger’s work seems so womanly and so strong.
It is conceivable that the vertigo caused by verticals (at the edge of the abyss) has a gentle partner in horizontals. A kind of window feeling. When it is very intense, you feel it in your nostrils, your ears, your chest or (in connection with speed) your bottom. The fixed point is not the abyss but the horizon. When I was a child and we went for a drive on Sundays, I would sit in the backseat and imagine—especially in fast curves—that I was riding a bicycle because I was never given one. Hannah Villiger can do it without a bicycle. That’s what I have to think of when I see her photographs of gushing water, swift birds or colliding boccie balls. And there is also the mute, squat airship, suspended in the sky, or the burning palm leaf thrown into the air. Here pleasurable and extremely subtle use is made of the potential of empathy, which in turn makes us aware of our own potential and position as part of a greater whole.
Hannah Villiger’s much enlarged color Polaroids no longer record the vehemence of directly transmitted physical sensations; they have quieted down. “He had teeth like luxury hotels on the beach in Florida and when he closed his mouth, there was a big scar.” (Laurie Anderson) These color photographs, usually one meter square, gradually turn into boxes the longer you look at them. Boxes into which you poke your head very, very slowly without noticing, because the pull is so gentle. And damp fog, pointed palm leaves, skin or gazes brush against us, passing by. But there are also pictures whose energy is directed outwards, pictures that radiate, so that we already notice from afar that we are being kept at bay. These are the cold pictures, like the eye with a razor-sharp gaze. Once you have stood in front of them, you know that the format of these photographs is incontestable.
Sometimes the subject matter of a picture ignites feelings; other times it is a vessel or a catchment for them. In memory such distinctions are often utterly irrelevant. For this reason, Hannah Villiger’s wooden or plexiglas objects crop up again in her photo works. Is Hannah Villiger the fog creeping around the mountain, or is the fog enveloping her? Movement back and forth, sudden clashes and leaps, simultaneous flowing and flying flit through Hannah Villiger’s work until a compact whole emerges—like her name HANNAH…” HANNAH and the Horizon, by Bice Curiger

more of Hannah‘s work here

┐ Cara Judea Alhadeff └

© Cara Judea Alhadeff, Lost Valley, from the conscious dream project

© Cara Judea Alhadeff, kunst-stoff, from the conscious dream project

© Cara Judea Alhadeff, Exploratoreum, from Gestation (singles)

© Cara Judea Alhadeff, south american tropical room, from gestation project

© Cara Judea Alhadeff, art and revolution’s wailing women heads, from gestation project

“As a Deleuzian nomadic feminist, my photographic work explores a dynamic disequilibrium. My photographs play with inter-relating imbrications—concurrent, multiple, contradictory tendencies.My pedagogical and art-based research explores the possibilities of radical citizenship by actively cultivating vulnerability through corporeal inquiries. Irreducibly allusive corpo-visual language unfolds as embodied rhizomatic vulnerabilities. My project is intricately rooted in the potential of a rhizomatic uncanny—”reducible neither to the One nor the multiple” (Mille Plateaux 22). I ground my theoretical investigations within narratives of personal experience —sexual becomings and analog photography. As a strategy to elucidate my theoretical queries, I refer both to my philosophical underpinnings and the international public reception of my photographs—which frequently has led to censorship. In doing so, I practice an embodied theory that advocates a politics, philosophy, and pedagogical commitment rooted in everyday behavior and interaction. A commitment to this heterogeneous embodied thinking has the potential to rupture cultural assumptions. It explores the cross-fertilization of Deleuze’s enfoldments as disarticulated membranes. This awareness awakens the possibility of fully inhabiting our bodies—bodies that pulse with the multiplicity of the ‘I’—as inherently interdisciplinary. Revitalization of both individual and social bodies produces enfoldments of psyche-somatic consciousness. No hierarchies survive these monstrous, heterogeneous, multiple entwinings of body intelligence and wisdom. The body becomes a condition for participatory democracy—a lived erotic politics.


My intention is to play with relationships amongst actual, liminal anatomical characteristics, and not to create artifice. Zizek tells us that “…Deleuze’s Spinoza is the Spinoza of the real, of ‘anarchic’ bodily mixtures” (Zizek188). The relationships among the “objects” within my photographs play out a process of continual de-centering and excess. I hope this language of critical imagination becomes an erogenous life-affirming power, breaking up predetermined taxonomies of knowledge, suspending what we think we know: “…the uncanny is destined to elude mastery, it is what cannot be pinned down or controlled. The uncanny is never simply a question of a statement, description or definition, but always engages a performative dimension, a maddening supplement, something unpredictable and additionally strange happening in and to what is being stated, described or defined” (Royle 16). This Deleuzian language of the uncanny cannot be taxonomied, classified, binarized.

How can we challenge, personally and collectively, our socialized fear and distrust of self-doubt, what comes out of our bodies, and what goes on inside them? For the past twenty years, these questions have compelled me to collaborate on cross-disciplinary projects with choreographers, composers, architects, philosophers, anthropologists, and geographers. Although I am a photographer, I experience my work as sculptural, cinematic, and performative—a two-dimensional manifestation of dance, sculpture, poetry, sociological investigation, and philosophical engagement rather than solely as “photography.” I shoot my still images with an analog large-format SLR Hasselblad camera. This is one reason why collaborating with artists from other disciplines is critical to my working process. This visual improvisation requires that each of us give up ownership and entitlement and enter a rhizomatic field of vulnerability, a surrender to dialogic self-sacrifice. This surrender becomes a dialogic relationship in which collaboration thwarts binary, reductive thinking. This self-sacrifice, not only in the sense of release of entitlement and ownership, but also as precisely the openness of vulnerability, if used consciously can become an explicit and emancipatory strategy for erotic agency. What evolves, then, is a recognition of our species’ de-centrality—deterritorialization establishes this new community— as an ever-unfolding statelessness of Becoming. Within this field of vulnerability, we are embedded in an interdependent rhizomatic dialogue. A dialogic self-sacrifice, inherent in the erotics of the uncanny, becomes a practice of the abject, which provokes terror because it shows, demonstrates, monstrifies how we are all connected. This sacrifice invites collaborative citizenship in which “the experience of oneself as a foreign body” (Royle 2) is paramount. Congruently, Spinoza’s “feeling” of surrender occupies the real. This self-sacrifice, inherent in uncanny rhizomatic vulnerabilities, becomes a practice of the real, of being open to the raw exposure of participating in unknown territory.”

excerpt of Practicing the Abject: Deleuze and the Analog Uncanny, in Rhizomes » Issue 23 (2012). continue reading here

see more of Cara‘s work here

┐ Laurence Demaison └

© Laurence Demaison, Bobine n°1, from the series Bobines, 2007

© Laurence Demaison, Photographie n°15, 2005

“The photographic work of Laurence Demaison is exclusively made of self-portraits. Since 1994, she has made of her body and her face the subjects and the objects of the photographic exploration to which she is dedicated with obstinacy. Through the various series, she tries out the means which photography offers to dissimulate, to transform, to deteriorate her own image. There is in her work, a sensitive and singular course, almost obsessional. And her steps are perhaps a lucid and reflected search for identity whose complexity is only a sequence of questions which Laurence Demaison is asking herself. She maintains an attraction-repulsion to her own body which generates a strange fascination in the spectator.”

Robert Delpire, source: Galerie Esther Woerdehoff

More of Laurence’s work here

║ Katie Koti ║

© Katie Koti, Tangle, from the series Asunder, 2008-current

© Katie Koti, Fall, from the series Asunder, 2008-current

“The images in my current project, “asunder”, reflect my continuing exploration of gender and its relationship to sexuality through the means of photography. The landscape works on various levels in my images. I use the landscape to seduce and engage the viewer with its beauty and textures. The landscape also acts as both an ambiguous form as well as a means to speak a shared and tangible language. The viewer can recognize the landscape as part of our world, it is ordinary and evokes a sense of comfort. The universal voice of the landscape creates a common thread for viewers to access ideas of gender and sexuality that may otherwise be foreign to them. I build symbolic connections, through metaphor, between the human body and the natural forms of the land. These connections allow the viewer to break away from a more literal, confined context, and in turn enables them to identify with the familiarity of the landscape. Aspects of the figures identity are revealed when they have partial or no clothing on. Our society has attempted to rigidly define gender and sexuality into a binary divide. There is often a sense of disconnect that one can experience as a result of not fitting into these boxes. I hope to challenge these dichotomous roles as well as expose the struggle an individual can go through inside of their skin. A struggle that is not only psychological, but also social and physical. I am particularly fascinated by the intersection of pain, clarity, and spirituality, that can come from this struggle. “

More of Katie’s work here

║ Nathalie Daoust ║

© Nathalie Daoust, Untitled, from the series Frozen in time

© Nathalie Daoust, Untitled, from the series Frozen in time

“These images are set in an ambiguous territory where dream and reality clash. In this altered state of reality, stillness and silence permeate each image, each is a moment frozen in time. Here memory and introspection create a labyrinth of illusion, mystery and fantasy. The narrative that evolves throughout the works is a personal one, a journey, steeped in self-scrutiny, towards coming to terms with one’s identity through life experiences, loss and sorrow as well as pleasure.”

Artist’s statement

More of Nathalie’s work can be seen here

║ Susanne Junker ║


© Susanne Junker, The Perfect Woman Is A Lie, from the series Woman, 2006


© Susanne Junker, The Perfect Woman Is No Lie #1, from the series Woman, 2006


© Susanne Junker, The Perfect Woman Is No Lie #3, from the series Woman, 2006

Photographiée par les plus importants photographes de mode elle fera les couvertures du ELLE et autres grands magazines de mode.
En 1999 elle décide de tout arrêter pour se réapproprier son image en se photographiant par morceaux choisis.
Son travail apparaît alors comme une quête identitaire avant de projeter son regard sur le monde. Son passage obligé au plus proche de son quotidien de jeune femme naissante donne lieux à toute une série d’autoportraits crus réalisés entre 1999 et 2001 et qui feront partis du groupe d’œuvres appelé « Stage Back » en contradiction affirmée avec le diktat des studios de mode.
Suivra un premier positionnement engagé et dénonciateur avec « FIGURE FOR THE BASE OF A CRUCIFICTION » qui amorce une réflexion sur l’acceptabilité de la position de la femme contemporaine telle qu’elle est vécue aujourd’hui avec ses repères imposés qui aboutit à la récente phase de son travail,

Source: Acte2Galerie

To see more of Susanne’s work click here

║ Jeff Bark ║

© Jeff Bark, Untitled #4, from the series Woodpicker, 2007

© Jeff Bark, Untitled #13, from the series Abandon, 2006

© Jeff Bark, Untitled #9, from the series Still Life

“Like Ingres’ La Grand Odalisque or Oedipus Explains the Riddle of the Sphinx, Bark infuses layer upon layer of information for the viewer to digest. Contemporary urban motifs are prevalent in each image amongst the debris of American consumerism – inflatable plastic swimming pools, telephones, cigarettes, and mass-produced furniture produce seams of narrative. Influenced by Norman Rockwell, Eric Fischl and filmmaker, David Lynch, Bark creates quiet erotic moods and spheres around his subjects with clues and hints but with nothing explicitly told.”
source: Michael Hoppen Gallery

More of Jeff’s work can be seen here

Sam Taylor Wood and Tracey Emin

© Tracey Emin
Everyone I Have Ever Slept With, 1963 – 1995


© Tracey Emin
My Bed – Instalation, 2000
© Sam Taylor Wood
Passion Cycle XI, 2002
© Sam Taylor Wood
Passion Cycle XIII, 2002
‘I’m having a midlife crisis actually, and I’m just so confused at the moment about what I want for the rest of my life. Some people think if only they could have success with their career, everything would be all right, but it’s not. When Isabella Blow died I thought, fucking hell, life is short. It was like a wake-up call. And I realised that I’m 43, I’m probably never going to have children – I would rather have my career than children – which puts me into a very different world to other women, and I intend to live in that world. Even though sex with Scott [her photographer boyfriend] is fantastic, I don’t need it. Relationships are great but I don’t know how good I am at them. I realised that being an artist is actually quite difficult and I am difficult, and I want to enjoy that difficulty and not feel threatened by it.’
Tracey Emin, interviewed by Lynn Barber, 2007