Rituals

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Fabian Marti-Komposition fur eine Rhombus-2008
While researching the rather sinister figure of Georges Bataille, the author of the infamous surrealist pornographic novel The Story of the Eye, originator of the theory of base materialism and the leading light of the journal Documents (see Dreams of Desire 13 (Serene Beauty) which was the home for several major expelled and dissident Surrealists, I chanced upon the above stunning and intriguing photographic study Komposition fur eine Rhombus (Composition for a Rhombus).

Fabian Marti is a Zurich based artist and Komposition fur eine Rhombus was part of an exhibition in Bordeaux on Secret Societies and the Occult in modern and contemporary art. Apart from its purely formal considerations it certainly possesses a heavy, ritualistic feel that Bataille, himself the founder of the secret society Acephale, would have appreciated. It also brings to mind Maya Deren’s (with a little help from Marcel Duchamp) experimental film The Witch’s Cradle (see Alpha & Omega).

Dreams of Desire 56 (Bob Carlos Clarke)

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Bob Carlos Clarke-Vanessa and Vicky Kissing 2002
Born into a fading aristocratic dynasty in Cork, Ireland, Bob Carlos Clarke was frequently referred to as ‘Britain’s answer to Helmut Newton’  (see Dreams of Desire 55 (Helmut Newton) for his provocative nude portraits which often featured the subjects wearing rubber and latex and involved in scenes suggestive of sado-masochistic ritual. Along with Newton he is the best exemplifier of what was known disparagingly as ‘porno-chic’.

After an unhappy childhood spent in boarding school in England Clarke had a hard time re-adjusting to 60’s Ireland, as he wryly noted in the introduction to his book Shooting Sex  (2002), “The first decade was OK, but later it was no place for a libidinous adolescent, particularly a withdrawn Protestant boy in a land where all the hot talent was Roman Catholic and strictly off-limits” and he moved to England in 1970 where he became a photographer quite by chance. When he discovered that the girl at college whom he had an unbearable crush on was a model he brought a camera so that she could pose for him. It worked and he would later marry the model Sue Frame, however the union didn’t survive Clarke’s constant infidelities.

He would later marry for a second time to another one of his models, Lindsay, with who he had a daughter Scarlett. As well as his overtly sexual photographs Clarke also took extraordinary and voyeuristic documentary style photographs of drunken debutantes balls and images of found objects discovered on the banks of the river Thames.

In 2006 at the age of 56, Clarke, depressed with growing older in a world where the models remained forever 21 and by the emergence of digital photography of which he said made everyone think they were the next Cartier-Bresson (Dreams of Desire 50 (The Decisive Moment) threw himself beneath an oncoming train.

The Art of Provocation 

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Our colleague Benjamin Peret in the act of insulting a priest-La Revolution Surrealiste December 1926
Being born out of anarchic Dada, the Surrealists delighted in provoking shock and outrage. The targets were the traditional representatives of bourgeois society; the law, the army and politicians. However they reserved their greatest contempt for the Church and never missed an opportunity in attempting to scandalize an institution that would frequently rise to the bait.

Is the above photograph an example of a chance encounter, an event so beloved by the Surrealists, that Peret found too tempting to pass up; or is rather a more calculated, stage-managed affair? Either way it remains a provocation.

Mirror Image

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Helmut Newton 1973

I look at you and all I can see
Is myself
Encased in the feminine form
My long lost imaginary twin
And I know that when you stare
So deeply into me
You are looking
Through a glass darkly
So that when we touch
We make love in a mirror
Dissolving on the other side
The place where all polarities
Are resolved, indeed
Made redundant.

Sun and Moon
Female and Male
Day and Night
Cease to exist

And there is no longer
A discrepancy between
Desire and decision
For our bodies
Is a binary code of attraction
A series of
OOOOO’s and IIIII’s
Eyes and oh’s,
Combined to complete
A sequence of absolute pleasure
Breathing the heavy musky scent
A smile of weighted lust
Plays on our devouring lips
As our bodies yield and the flesh merges
Together as identities blur and fade
Into the suggestive sculpture
Of an unmade bed

Dreams of Desire 55 (Helmut Newton)

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Catherine Deneuve-Helmut Newton 1976
Known as the ‘King of Kink’ and the ’35mm Marquis De Sade’ , Helmut Newton was the most influential fashion photographer of the twentieth century. Famous for his highly stylised black and white photographs of beautiful statuesque women in perverse narrative scenarios, Newton has alternatively been hailed as a true original or vilified as a fetishist who presents the ultimate in the objectification of women.

Born Helmut Neustadter  to a wealthy German-Jewish family in Berlin, Newton was an apprentice to the fashion and advertising photographer Yva (see my previous post Yva) from the ages  of 16 and 18. Fleeing the worsening situation in 1938 Newton went first to Singapore where he led a playboy lifestyle, before moving to Australia where he served in the Australian Army for 5 years. It was in Australia that he met his wife of 55 years, June, who was also a photographer known as ‘Alice Springs’.

Newton rose to fame in the 1960’s where his photographs frequently appeared in the French Edition of Vogue. The startling fetishtic glamour shots of the seventies are charged with eroticism and a ritualistic, sado-masochist atmosphere. During the 1980’s and 90’s Newton was one of the most in-demand celebrity photographers, anyone who was anyone during that time had a portrait taken by Newton. As Newton was obsessed by glamour, celebrity and decadence (after all he grew up in the Weimar Republic) it was a perfect fit and his photographs define that image conscious era.

Newton died in a car crash after leaving Chateau Marmont Hotel in Los Angeles, which served as his winter residence for many years, at the age of 83. It was, as Karl Lagerfeld noted, ‘his last picture, taken by himself.’

Yva

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Yva
Else Ernestine Neulander-Simon, known simply by her professional pseudonym, Yva, was a pioneering female photographer of  the Weimar Republic. She set up her first studio  in 1925 and briefly collaborated with the experimental photographer Heinz Hajek-Halke (see Dreams of Desire 54 (Written on the Body) before a copyright dispute led them to part ways. Initially focused on nude, portrait and fashion photography, Yva was one of the first photographers to fully realise the commercial application of the field to advertising. Her Berlin atelier was one of the most successful of its days and employed 10 assistants by the time Hitler came to power.

Yva and her husband Alfred Simon, who managed the financial affair of the studio, were both Jewish and considered for some time whether to emigrate from Germany, especially when she was forced to ‘Aryanize’ the business in 1936 (a law had come into effect that forbade Jews from owning businesses, necessitating the transfer of the company to her friend, the art historian Charlotte Weider). There was the possibility of a fresh start as Life magazine  had informed her that a job was waiting for her when she came to America. However Alfred was unwilling to start over again in a country where they didn’t even speak the language and thought maybe the situation in Germany would improve. Things certainly didn’t and the business was closed for good by 1938. Yva went to work as a radiographer in the Jewish Hospital in Berlin until 1942 when she was arrested, along with her husband, by the Gestapo and deported to Majdanek concentration camp where they were murdered shortly after.

As an interesting aside one of Yva’s apprentice’s from 1936 to 1938 was a young Jewish boy named Helmut Neustädter, who after escaping Germany would later change his name to Helmut Newton, creator of some of the most iconic fashion photography and celebrity portraits of the twentieth century.

Spent

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Sometimes I doubt
If you ever existed.
The perfected portrait
So crookedly hung yet
Prominently positioned,
With pride of place
In my memory’s gallery
Now undergoing
Further renovations.
Constantly bleached
All the impurities
Swept up and away
Yet it all is just
An ideal revision
After all what did
I ever mean to you?
And what did you
Ever mean to me?
A momentary pause
Afternoon delight
A brief holiday
From responsibility
In between times
Decided ambiguity
Immediate recognition
You were unique
I was enigmatic
The germ of genius
Residing within
Where slyly perverse
Inclinations strange
And/or unobtainable
Occasionally hinted at,
Accurately guessed.
You liked me for
My wide coppery eyes
And smooth skin.
I loved you for
Your elfin build
And slow Sapphic kisses
Together united
We should have completed
But all we managed
Was to botch
Our romance
Allowed the affair
To fade and fail
You could afford
To forget:
You had time
Other erotics awaited,
But I could never
Forgive the fact
That I was used up,
Spent;
With my love wasted.

Questions & Answers with Nádia Maria

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Nadia Maria 2017
Nádia Maria is a contemporary photographer currently residing in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Her work has been featured in National Geographic and Paris Vogue. After featuring her stunning ethereal portraits in my previous posts Heavenly Bodies and Transformations I contacted Nadia who kindly agreed to an informal interview. Further information about this exciting young talent can be found at her website http://www.nadiamaria.com.

Many thanks to my friend Jason Lock, himself a professional photographer, for his invaluable assistance and suggestions in relation to this interview.

AS: Your website gives the indication that you are professional trained, but by obscuring the informative text and concentrating on the creative element it suggests that inspiration is more important to you than technical acumen. Is this the case for yourself?

NM: Training has its importance, or rather, construction has its importance. However when I want to give concrete expression to an image that has suggested itself to my Self I have to, it a sense, deconstruct my training. Only then can the image be set free.

AS: Do you think that studying the creative arts is important for inspiring/aspiring photographers?

NM: I think everything you study, question, observe, believe you know, is important and collaborates with the image.

AS: Where would you say the major influences come from for you photography?

NM: Art, literature, meditation.

AS: Which artists and writers have provided you with inspiration?

NM: It depends a lot upon the moment. I’m always discovering new things, but I have some favourites: Rilke, Fernando Pessoa, Sylvia Plath, Alejandra Pizarnik, Borges, Murilo Mendes, Khalil Gibran, Hilda Hilst, Manoel de Barros, to name a few … I find that one thing leads to another, a piece of music will lead me to myths that leads me to philosophy. There is a whole universe of inter-connected inspiration out there.

AS: In your own field what photographers you admire?

NM: There are so many, but for their complete bodies of work it would be Sally Mann, Masao Yamamoto, Francesca Woodman.

AS: Of the photographers you mentioned I would be most familiar with Francesca Woodman (I have written an article called Angel about her), whose work leaves me with a sense of awe. When did you discover her work and is she a conscious influence?

NM: I discovered Woodman while I was at school. I have always enjoyed long expositions, and when I studied photography I used to make the exercises all “wrong”. I had an open shutter craze and one of my teachers said that I should take a look at her photographs; that I would identify with them. I felt an affinity, but in a different way than my friend thought I would.
I definitely admire her work but she isn’t a conscious influence. Woodman reflects the world that she saw and I reflect mine. Sometimes artists worlds cross but they are private reflections of particular kinds of self-knowledge.

AS: Where does that particular kind of inspiration come from in your work?

NM: From reflection, internal dialogues, dreams, the void…

AS: Do you create a narrative before creating the images – or – is it the case that you create images first then work a narrative around the picture?

NM: Usually there is a narrative before the image, but sometimes the images give me a narrative, however it is always a leap into the abyss.

AS: Do you use any analogue process in your work or are you totally digital?

NM: I use both.

AS: How does your use of analogue influence your work?

NM: I have a greater affinity with analogue as it what I started with, but it is becoming harder to work with today here in Sao Paulo, Brazil. My photographic thinking is built on analogue so even when I am using digital I keep what I can from the analogue process.

AS: When using digital, are you imagining the final image before actually capturing the image?

NM: Yes I usually see it in my mind beforehand, however sometimes there is an element of chance where the unconscious manifests itself.

AS: There is a major up take in photography due to the digital world and the access to smart phone technology. People consider themselves ever more creative and explore the world of Instagram etc – do you think that this hinders or promotes the conceptional/experimental genre of photography?

NM: Well, everything has its positive and its negative side, don’t you think?

AS: I do certainly agree that everything has a positive and negative side. What are the positives and negatives with the ever increasing popularity of social media on the arts?

NM: The most striking positive I think is the increased visibility and reach a work can have, and all instantaneously. A few years ago that wasn’t possible. The negative side, and unfortunately I have experienced this myself, is the devaluation of creativity, a lack of sensibility, a levelling effect.

AS: Where do you see your future as a photographer?

NM: Who knows where this will lead me. Maybe the photograph will cease to exist as it now. Maybe I will no longer feel the need to be a photographer.

AS: And finally (and this is an old chestnut) what advice would you give for future generation of image makers?

NM: Whenever I am asked I always quote Jung: “Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” That about sums it all up.

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Unearthly Raptures

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Another time, a different season
Another place, without reason
You and I indivisible
With desires non-negotiable

Instead I observe obsessed
Your body remaining uncaressed
Breasts uncapped by my hands
Your thighs undiscovered lands
Leading to untouched territory
An unchartered perilous country
Where there lies unknown pleasure
Unearthly rapture beyond measure
Your eyes cause ecstatic distress
Your lips an agony of excess
Your breath to me untasted
My lust so terminally belated.

With desires non-negotiable
You and I indivisible
Another place, without reason
Another time, a different season

Transformations

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Nadia Maria
As I noted in my previous post on the brilliant Brazilian photographer Nadia Maria, Heavenly Bodies, she derives much of her inspiration from the fleeting visions glimpsed before sleep and from dreams themselves, hence the dark evocative atmosphere she portrays so poetically in each image. Nadia Maria manages to capture perfectly the sense of imminent transformation that we all experience when we dream, where nothing is as it appears to be and everything has the potential to become something other. Here on the night-side the uncertain self is confronted with all the sublimity and terror of being.

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