“Hamilton was deeply problematic on many levels and I reference him mostly because of the blur and grain of his pre-pubescent models. That suicide was his final intervention is no large surprise. The debate on his work was over before it started”.
Throughout the history of photography, certain strange and nearly mystic traditions have unfolded that push the envelope of the photographic image between the erotic and the fantastic with purpose. Deborah Turbeville, Irina Ionesco and Sarah Moon are three such artists whose work represents this wavering trajectory between fashion in complete fantasy mode and the sensual erotic impulse. These two genre’s of practice when in close proximity refute the position of both eroticism and fashion, creating instead a world in which the power structure implied is completely within the hands of the feminine and more importantly, delineated by the female gaze. The effect is not to create simply lustful images or quasi-mythical narratives for the viewer per se, but rather to contemplate a responsibility of what it means to be given license over the female form in a way which commands power, respect and enables the storyboard of possibility in narrative terms to unfold in a way much different to their male counterparts where perspectives are often stiff (yes) and misunderstood between subject and author. The fantasy is implicit in the works of the artists mentioned above. Importantly, in their works what you have is a world ruled by women and the fantasy differs to the effect of the male gaze in that it is not simply a display for a male audience and the cast of characters/subjects are active ingredients within the image- often you can see the dropping of the guard in the subject complicit to the commitment of the role.
There are other antecedents to Camille Vivier’s work that use the blur of the lens to create an anima-a sulphur-inspired dream state in which lush bodies dripping with sun and perspiration become psychosomatic Freudian parables. Sheila Metzner is but one more in the long list of women photographing women with an outbound desire that is coupled with a deeper mythological or cinematic quasi-narrative. If I am stretching, even some of Collier Schorr’s phenomenal work of recent concentrating on A-typical bodies comes close.
Of course, there are the male counterparts and the list is quite long when we consider the 70’s and 80’s in particular. David Hamilton, John Swannell, Graham Ovenden and perhaps any number of other “soft porn” girlie mag photographers with their buckets of dry ice and their neon-lit dreams comply to a similar aesthetic. Hamilton was deeply problematic on many levels and I reference him mostly because of the blur and grain of his pre-pubescent models. That suicide was his final intervention is no large surprise. The debate on his work was over before it started.
Of a more familiar and hopefully historically correct footnote, the history of nude is fevered and resplendent and successful works. The work made between Stieglitz and O’Keefe being but one successful example and a good number of Weston’s early pictorial works during the Modotti years are also strong and though authored by the man, can be seen as somewhat collaborative. Anne Brigman and perhaps most importantly to my own interest the works of Paul Outerbridge and William Mortensen also resonate-both were incredible artists who used the female form as a example of pure fantasy and did not hide behind this in the mechanics of their display, nor did they commit grievous intentional objectification. One can argue that, and I would be fine if absolution were not given, but my sincere belief is that in the fantasy-led works, one can find solutions to what would otherwise be given over to the problematic.
“You cannot tell easily if the works are archive based, perhaps a box of 70’s slides from the tail end of the psychedelic field trip with body paint adornment, the color palette of the work almost literally laced in honey pantone and within the air appearing, like an apparition-thick with steam and sweat, nipples erect and prostrate bodies laying supple form against hard stone”
Camille Vivier’s Twist on APE Editions is so loaded with historical image references and incredible imagery that I find it overwhelming to the point of abstraction. On the surface, Vivier is a fashion photographer whose obvious historical knowledge of the photographic image is incredibly apparent in her anachronistic work. You cannot tell easily if the works are archive based, perhaps a box of 70’s slides from the tail end of the psychedelic field trip with body paint adornment. The color palette of the work is almost literally laced in honey pantone and the within the image, a fog appears like an apparition-thick with steam and sweat, in which erect nipples and prostrate bodies emerge laying supple form against hard stone.
It is pretty intense to say the least. There is a desire apparent in Vivier’s eye, especially at the beginning of the book. You feel that the photographer is actively seeing the girls with a sexual desire to devour-in this sense one understands the male gaze is not the only to consume bodies and reading this terrain becomes but one of many details of unlocking the work-to understand what the female gaze is in part and to reconcile its role with that of its counterpoint and to understand what role exploitation carries or does not.
Further, halfway through the book and with the introduction of strange abstract sculptures and incredible sets, we begin to form the mythological beast of an Edenic world in which Adam, long de-ribbed and castrated is buried over the wall of the garden, the birds of prey picking over the last eye dangling from his skull adorning the steel spike that pierces it atop the gate, reminding others of what lies ahead of tempting the fate within. Inside, the world returns to a fantasy overtaken by weeds, women and the nymph-like sirens beckoning the scopophilic tendency within the viewer. Throughout, the lurid sexual estrogenic state becomes a place of power-its rituals and totems still unclear, but none the less feminine and in control.
It is very difficult not to see this point within the context of the times we live in. I think to myself upon re-examination about the outcome of such work if a man had made it. Does gender matter? We spend much time discussing its significance and yet, from the position of criticality, I am left to wonder at the outcome if authorship had a different chromosome. This is but one small thing to percolate over. The overall effect of the book is incredibly powerful, somewhat playful, but again, there seems to be a purpose behind it and whimsy seems to be left aside, the playfulness is strictly between author and subject and not audience. Further to the discussion and the clear Western Tradition of the female body and its historical antecedents both photographic and biblical or other, the book is loaded, sexy, and somehow dangerous. It is for these reasons that, along with the superb design (especially the cover) that this book should be on most end of the year lists. Highest Recommendation.
If you find yourself in Ghent, Belgium, Camille Vivier will be showing her work at NO/ Gallery Opening May 3rd with a Twist book signing on the 3rd.
Art Paper Editions APE
(All Rights Reserved. Text @ Brad Feuerhelm. Images @ Camille Vivier)