Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Proud Flesh

In college, I wrote a thesis on Surrealist photographer/model/muse Lee Miller... I'm going to sound like a raging feminist right now, but I'm totally interested in female artists who examine, or at least address, a long-lived male obsession with taking pictures of really hot women to satisfy/solidify their raging sexual needs. It definitely goes both ways today, there are plenty of women taking pictures of men, but this wasn't always the case. Lee Miller was one of the first female photographers to really receive mainstream press for using the camera to explore what women also find "appealing."

Sally Mann has just partnered with Aperture to print a series of photos on her male muse, her husband. (Seriously) how romantic. (The book is titled Proud Flesh.) Like Miller, Mann tries to flip-flop the classic artistic partnership between model/muse and photographer in a kinda Surrealisty spontaneous and collage-y aesthetic. Gender politics aside, Mann is also just generally interested in exploring the relationship between photographer and subject along with the subject's vulnerability under the camera's gaze.

No matter how much you know about Surrealism, I think you'll find these photos beautiful -- the whole project harks back on the old days of film and an earlier, more gentle and heroic, time in photography. Here are some of Mann's word which appear in the book... c/o joerg colberg's art photo blog. ... I love the last sentence...

"I have looked hard at my husband since the first long strides he took into the room where I was languishing on a ratty chenille couch in some student apartment. My eyes fastened on him with bright interest, squinting to better get the measure of this tall man. Within six months, we were married. That was forty years ago, and almost the first thing I did was photograph him...

But that long history of picture-taking didn't make it any easier to make the Proud Flesh photographs. Rhetorically circumnavigate it any way you will, but exploitation lies at the root of every interaction between photographer and subject, even forty years into it. Larry and I both understand how ethically complex and potent the act of making photographs is, how freighted with issues of honesty, responsibility, power, and complicity, and how so many good images come at the expense of the sitter, in one way or another...

Most of the pictures I take are of the things I love, the things that fascinate and compel me, but that doesn't mean they are easy to look at or take. Like Flaubert, two things are sacred to me in my process: impiety and perfection--the former often hereditary, the latter always hard-won. Beyond the felicitous "unifying accidents" that occasionally grace the work, making art requires tenacity, a temperament born of an ungodly cross between a hummingbird and a bulldozer, and, most of all, practice. Practice looking."

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