BLACK & WHITE
Three Photographers: David Hamilton , Jock Sturges and Sally Mann There are difficulties of determining artistic intention and even authorship in photography that do not pertain to painting or sculpture. One consequence is that the history or criticism of photography cannot with any confidence appropriate the terms of a painting-based history of style. For example, the limitations or opportunities of the film, the contrast, speed, color balance and grain all restrict stylistic choices on the part of a photographer by restricting the number of his selection parameters in a way that the support and the medium of painting do not.
So do the image collecting properties of the lens not just focal length but the very way the composite lenses are arranged to direct the light , available filtration and camera format. All this applies to film photography as it does mutatis mutandis to digital photography, the parameters of which are currently in constant flux because of the speed of technical innovation.
In a way the blanche agonie does not exist for the photographer. Much of the surface is already filled in. The photographer can assert himself against these predetermined parameters by deliberate, often manual, intervention. But there is a frontier at which the resulting work is no longer a photograph but a composite that uses photographically derived means of applying color and line to a flat surface.
First, there is the sheer ease and speed with which an image can be created. The effect of this is that the competent photographer can assume a hundred different photographic and even painterly styles in as many days.
He is less bound by the economic calculation of the effort and time required in creating a work, and so each individual work is less deliberate from a style standpoint. But there is something essential in the very protean nature of the photographic medium. Moreover, in the case of figure photography and consequently nude photography, the model contributes as much to the final image as the photographer.
Much can be done to change her appearance, but the presence of the model whose appearance is photographed is largely ineluctable. Once again, change her too much and she is no longer the model originally chosen. Models become more important in 19th century painting not simply because of the better reporting, but also because advances in technique and the turn to real time life studies led to images of recognizable individual women. Still there is a sudden and unbridgeable break in the transition from painting to photography.
In photography the model is the co-creator of the image. Model searches are significant for the content of a photograph in a way they are not for painting. Finding the right model could be the most significant aesthetic act the photographer performs. The photographer can assert himself in his selection of models and in this case his actual control, as opposed to what happens with style decisions, is decidedly greater.
Every photographer decides whom he will or will not shoot. However, the unavailability of the specific look he wants will limit his power of decision in a way that, in theory at least, the painter is not limited.
David Hamilton did show us new things through his lens or showed them in a new way. Iconographically, he focused on adolescence and lesbianism. Stylistically he also moved his settings permanently out of the studio and the neutrality of seamless paper.
His typical unarticulated background is identifiable as a wall and specifically the cool sort of plaster of the French Midi most often shot with natural window light, minimum depth of field and varying degrees of graininess. Comparisons of the two are interesting since together they were instrumental in showing alternatives to the prevailing style of nude photography. It also serves to give the feeling of the past tense as if these photographs are memories. Hamilton claims he never used filters, which is not strictly true since a gauze curtain in front of a model is effectively a filter.
And whether his effects were achieved in processing or in some other way during shooting, the result is much like some sorts of filtration. Hamilton stands out because of his personal vision, which, when it appeared, was relatively new for the photographic nude: The sweet cusp of pubescence, the fleshy Eden of slim hips and large nipples sitting disproportionately on small breasts.
I suppose one has to reach all the way back to Lucas Cranach, whom Hamilton acknowledges, to find something similar, something a world away from the ruler and compass dome hips of Renaissance and Baroque nudes. Jock Sturges also shoots in the Midi but you do not feel the heat of the sun in his photos. The outlines are sharp and the air is cold, which gives them an air of unreality as if they were designedly museum objects. Despite their obsessive use of clear contours in tension with softly glowing light Sturges shoots frequently in open sunlight which accounts for the hardness and sharpness of much of his imagery.
Even his use of shade for modeling is rather high in contrast and so sharp around the edges. Mann takes advantage of the softer light of her environment with abundant use of cross shadows. The links in this essay are to high contrast jpegs that don't really represent the original silver gelatin prints at all well.
The young nudes cannot be successfully defined outside of reference to their family or group. They do not exist outside that framework. What is disturbing is that the family is one of the most favored institutions of despicable Xtian bourgeois society, and the embrace of the family by the fundamentally reactionary though confused counter culture movement shows a nostalgia barely distinguishable from that of your ordinary Sunday morning sermon.
But such a quasi-idyllic pastiche contains the lie of their art. For the family baptizes the emerging individual into unquestioning obedience, and parental oppression. It is the template for the universalized oppression we call a nation. It is a privileged or primal situation whose destruction is the work of a sort of metaphysically free act. Is there a sense in which Mann represents a different view of the family from the oppressive tyrannical grouping that has been dubbed the bourgeois family but which in reality is the family, any family?
Her Preface to Immediate Family contains indications along these lines. The world view behind her musings partakes of a happy communitarianism redolent of Woodstock and pantisocracies.
They have in the course of the past decades managed to impose on the rest of society an almost obsessive child worship. And indeed the only real consequence of that worship has been its cynical manipulation by goober preacherhood into a revival of sexual tyranny. Paradoxically their separateness is tied to integration with the woods and beaches from which they emerge fully developed, a delicate and yielding dragon seed.
The photographer is as much a part of the work of art as the individuals actually appearing in the images. Despite his lavish use of more obviously personally distinctive aestheticizing techniques, the eye of the Hamiltonian observer is much closer to that of Millet or Seurat - as close as he can possibly get to simply not being present.
Sturges is somewhere between the two. He appears not to photograph his own family but acquaintances in communities he visits alone though we need the commentary to realize this; nothing in the photographs themselves makes it obvious. He, like Mann, is somewhat of a figure in his photographs, but he is the essential outsider, whose participation is limited to observation and visual recording. Is the work of any of these photographers better than that of the others?
The problem is we are loaded with culturally induced bad faith whenever we break into the realm of value judgment. Comments that go further than thumbs up or thumbs down are notably missing from their phrase book. Likewise the discovery of aesthetic quality is invariably an introspective act and consequently not objective at all. Its communication to others may amount to a sort of anti-social imposition.
One is tempted to say that the only thing that comes close to objectivity is the market. That is, the most aesthetically or perhaps erotically stimulating is in fact what sells best. Such a view approaches the truth only where the market is truly free. Otherwise, as we know, fanatic preachers are more than happy to manipulate market results to make it appear as if Disney kiddie porn had real value.
All rights reserved.
Absence of Shame
This photobook is his first and now nearing twenty years in print. As part of the background story one social element that Sturges shares with Sally Mann and David Hamilton is his subject matter; nude children, specifically young girls who are just at or recently past puberty. All have been subsequently involved with legal actions by groups of citizens and court officials to prosecute these photographers for child pornography in the United States and United Kingdom.
The legal actions against the three occurred during the period from to and I guess later , and with Hamilton in the United Kingdom, into the 21st century. These moralist legal actions against photographers has a long history in both the US and UK.
How each of these three photographers photographed their subjects varies widely, with Hamilton on one side with his soft focus and dreamy interpretations and Mann on the other end in a very documentary straight style of her young children. Although this classification is probably a sales tactic it still underlines the continuing issues within the US as to the acceptance of frontal nude photographs of young girls who are moving through the late stages of puberty.
As apparent in the title the time of year at which the photographs are made appears to be in the late summer. All of the photographs occur out-of-doors and most appear to be made either early or later in the day.
This is a series of environmental portraits of his friends and their families mostly inclusive of their children of whom most are practicing naturalist in which clothing is optional.
As I stated earlier I consider Sturges an environmental portrait photographer. His primary focus and framing is the individual or groups of individuals before him with the environmental landscape secondary. His subject is usually centered and inclusive within the frame and occasionally when photographing large groups will extend out of the frame. His subjects usually have direct eye contact with his lens and occasionally his subjects will have closed their eyes in a peaceful and meditative pose.
They sort of figure out what it takes to push my button. So that can go too far, sometimes. That can get to be a little bit too self conscious, on occasion. But very often it is actually quite beautiful, how people present themselves. I feel that their neutral facial appearance may result from the long duration that it takes for Sturges to set-up the large camera and his subjects may not realize that the moment of the exposure is occurring. Unlike being photographed by a photographer with an SLR camera that as soon as the camera is brought to eye level the photographic exposure probably occurs.
The ambiguity of time coupled with the longer set up duration is a photographic process tool that Sturges takes full advantage of to maintain a sense of candidness. It could also be argued that for a naturalist there are few outward pretenses as to who they are because it is plainly self-evident.
They are equally participating in the photographic event. I think that his photographs may indeed be possible due to his extended personal relationships that he has established over the many years with the extensive amount of time he is photographing his subjects with this equipment. I suspect that his subjects would come to expect to see Sturges with his bulky and awkward photographic equipment as it would be to see him au natural.
It is part and parcel to his persona and I believe his subjects also come to expect that he will ask to photograph them in between the time they are enjoying the beach. I find delightful the photographs of the young Misty Dawn as she dresses up as a princess or a winged fairy. She is caught momentarily in the childlike world of fantasy and wonder. She looks directly at the camera when costumed as a fairy and perched on a pile of split wood the back-lit sunlight illuminating her fairy wings and costume making contact.
With her mouth just slightly open it is difficult to know if she is about to say something, trying to maintain her concentration and balance or perhaps another alternative that we may never know. Likewise when young Dawn is among her family and friends they interact among themselves and occasional appear to be performing for the camera. Sturges has allowed Dawn to set the stage and amid the surrounding environment to help establish the narrative.
Dawn in turn is very aware of the photographer and camera as she posses looking directly into the lens. There is an immediacy and direct contact established between photographer, subject and viewer.
The photograph of Flore and Frederique on the beach in Montalivet France is another interaction between Sturges and his subjects that draws in the viewer Editors note, this image was removed due to intense concerns about it being on the web. Both the young girl and her mother are both standing on a beach entirely within the pictorial frame and Sturges is creating a subtle balance by positioning them on either side of the center of the frame.
Both subjects hold their arms and hands away from their sides in almost identical positions with their weight placed on one hip such that it appears that two of them are extending their bodies toward each other in a non-verbal connection. Flore in the foreground is in sharp focus while her mother Frederique is further away and slightly out of focus which I find symbolic of where Flore is now and yet also moving towards.
Flore is entirely focused on the photographer while Frederique appears to intent upon watching her daughter and approving of the situation, nevertheless watchful. The two of them represent the ongoing mother and daughter relationship with the daughter in the foreground, coming of age, the center of attention and the mother in the background, slightly out of focus, her presence known and every diligent and protective.
In another small group on the beach in France Sturges has provided his most expansive landscape of the un-ending beach as a backdrop to the five young girls lounging on the sand in the foreground. The girls are loosely grouped and their bodies are placed such that form a ring among themselves. They are not making eye contact with the lens nor each other appearing to be lost in thought.
Their bodies do not touch each other except for the extending shadows which lightly makes contact and is a symbolic connection between themselves. The combination of light and shadow almost abstracts the shape of their bodies on the beach and provides visual clues that this is probably towards the end of the day.
Each of the girls has reclined on the sand with a slightly different position but the overall aesthetic effect is one of very balanced masses and weights within the pictorial frame.
His photographs do not seem to betray or take advantage of his subjects but reflects his interest in and attempts to understand them as friends and extension of his family. That they are occasionally nude while taking advantage of the good weather is immaterial.
The parents enjoy the naturalist lifestyle and have instilled the same appreciation into their children that spending time on a warm beach without clothes is just a natural and expected thing to do without any fuss or other emotional baggage.
Children are also all about change with growth occurring in body and mind as it appears that they quickly evolve from young child to young adult. Who they are today is very fleeting. Their exterior body changes are more evident and symbolize more readily the persistent and relentless passage of time. As adults the passage of time is not as readily evident within a short duration from year to year; we are relatively unchanged.
A picture that succeeds in transfixing what is past somehow serves to imply and promise the future. Would we allow ourselves to go out into a public area entirely unclothed? To be seen for whom we are and to allow others to see the naked truth? In turn, Kuhn works with slightly older nude models to construct her pensive narratives.
Although she started photographing with black and white like Sturges she subsequently has moved to photographing with the color medium. Sturges has a keen sense of timing and the ability to entice his subjects, especially the children, to act out their fantasies revealing themselves and to make photographic notes that capture their innocent and childlike interactions.
Sturges exposes his black and white negatives and subsequent develops the photographs with a modernistic tonality with open and revealing shadows and the texture held in the highlights. The full tonal range of his photographs is further complemented by the nice Italian printing of the book.
The Last Day of Summer is the first of the nine Jock Sturges photobooks currently published with four of his photobooks published by Aperture. The stiff cover edition of The Last Day of Summer has at least 10 printings over the period of , and and the larger cloth cover edition had at least four printings. This quantity of printings is an indication of the popularity of Sturges photobooks which has created a very financially and successful series of photobooks for Aperture and the other publishers.
By Douglas Stockdale.
Photographic Art Or Child Porn? Controversy Roars -- Reputable Bookseller Caught In Crossfire
There is beauty there; there is also truth — but no filth. His models never undress for the photographer — they were nude before he arrived and will be again as he departs. The photographer captures his models — girls and young women from nudist communities — in the surroundings that are organic to them. He is deeply involved with the lives of his models and has known most of them and their families for decades.
He strives not only to show the beauty of their bodies but also to give a glimpse into their characters.
Radiant Identities: Photographs By Jock Sturges
Having started in the s, now he is photographing the third generation of his models. For decades, beauty in all its forms has been the main concern of the artist. Definitely there is a kind of hypnotic beauty in the works of Jock Sturges. While search returns for Sturges mostly directed me to fine art websites, inevitably there was some usage on erotica blogs and alongside pop-up ads for teen chat rooms and the like; a handful had once been displayed on actual pornography sites but had since been removed.
Whether due to copyright infringement or because Sturges is being careful to try to keep his images out of such places is unclear, but this detail is at least heartening.
Still, I would surmise that there are doubtless more than a few instances of his work appearing uncredited on pornography sites, particularly since, chillingly, they would be categorized as pedophilia which—being illegal—is underground. Should Sturges be concerned about this? I believe so, or I believe he should at least engage in a dialog about all of the facets of internet use. Interestingly, in Sturges became a member of the site photo.
I am an all-or-nothing sort as I never censor my work in any part myself nor condone others doing so on my behalf. Your rules are what they are I suppose. I was naive in imaging [sic] that my work which is published and available world wide would not be problematic in your forum.
Silly of me. I leave with regret because I love writing about photography…So it goes. It was a total surprise to me, which is obviously evidence of my having been pretty profoundly naive about the American context.
I believe it is pertinent to mention that his current wife was also once one of his models, whom he began photographing when she was She was the second. And it was at a point in time when I was getting divorced from my wife. I was vulnerable and making bad decisions. I have to tell you, I am sometimes deeply suspicious of the sexual mental health of some of the people who point their wavering fingers at the morality, the art, of others. There it is; so what?
Jock Sturges In The Internet Age
That fascination pervades the species from the beginning of time; people just admit to it to varying degrees. Personally, I feel once again that there is a gap between what Sturges claims he is attempting to reveal in his work and the actuality of his work. Further still, he expresses happiness at being able, he believes, to help girls who do not feel pretty realize that they are. It was a changing point for her.