Exercise 3.1 – Part 3 / Project 1 summary

The following notes summarise my feelings about the works explored in Project 1 of part 3 of the course, and in particular the works of Brotherus, Wearing and Woodman. I have made separate reflections on each of these in previous entries to the blog.

Many of the images I have explored use the photographer’s body (or parts of it) as a means of expression, but the feelings elicited vary widely. In some cases, and particularly in Brotherus’s Annonciation (1)I could feel a connection with the struggles of the artist, and the images all felt very personal and intimate. The images from Woodman, on the other side of the spectrum, felt mostly detached and cold. I could not feel any specific personal reflection in many of those, although there were plenty of self references (specially to her lifestyle), which I believe Woodman used to reflect on aesthetic themes and grander, more generic concepts (such as mortality, purity and our struggle to fit in). While they feel more detached, Woodman images can sometimes be easier to look at, and sometimes also easier to decipher, than those of Brotherus’s Annonciation, or her follow-up series Carpe Fucking Diem (2), where she combines personal shots with landscapes, family images, and photographs of personal objects to create a series which feels more disjointed and perhaps too personal to be able to relate to.  Perhaps in the middle sit the Self-Portrait series by Wearing (3), which draw from something personal but feel sufficiently generic and structured to be approachable.

How deep these images go into the depiction of the artist’s self exploration determine to a large extent how we feel about them. The exploration of one’s mind is as valid topic as anything else, and I do not believe we need to share the artist’s experience in order to empathise with it. I do not relate with Brotherus situation in Annonciation, but the series is successful in creating a feeling of hopelessness which is sufficiently universal for any viewer to relate to, regardless of their circumstances. When she moves to the next stage in her healing process, which led to Carpe Fucking Diem, she resorts to imagery that feel gratuitously disjointed (the series is a medley of landscapes, street photography, still life, portraits, surrealism and snapshots). She does not appear in several of the images here, but it still feels like a personal project where the underlying theme is too personal, too intimate and perhaps too deep to allow the viewer to connect. In that sense, some of the work of Brotherus feels, if not pretentious at least uninteresting. Of the three artists explored here, only Woodman makes use of captions to accompany her photographs, and even this is not particularly frequent. Certainly not as common as with other artists famous for this such as Duane Michals or Karen Knorr. I feel that in some cases captions could have helped (certainly it would have helped in my understanding of Carpe Fucking Diem), but in situations where the taking of a photograph only has a personal significance, text is only going to sustain attention on its own merits. A successful pairing, in my opinion, would require the significance of text and image to bounce off each other. If the meaning of the photograph is too arcane as to elude anybody outside the artist’s circle, this is not going to work.

Nudism is something that features on both the work of Brotherus and Woodman. Some of the nude imagery produced by Brotherous has a passing resemblance to some of Woodman’s images (see for instance here and here), but I have come to the conclusion that the significance of it for each artist is not the same. In the case of Woodman, I believe nudity is sometimes a mechanism for the artist to try to connect with the environment, the surroundings (see here and here, for instance) and I believe this connection is central to some of Woodman’s recurring themes. Clothes in this case are just another barrier to that connection, and Woodman is not afraid to remove it when appropriate (in many other images where this connection is not critical, she appears fully clothed). Woodman has also done a great deal of exploration around surreal themes and in many cases she has used parts of her naked body with a variety of props (mirrors, display cabinets, masks, fish) to create illusions of the mind. In a way, nudity here just feels like another prop available to the artist for achieving a particular aesthetic result. There are no significant sexual connotations or undertones in most of Woodman’s nude images and I do not feel that this was her intent at any point.

Brotherus uses nudism less frequently than Woodman, and I feel that her use of it is perhaps more formal, more contextual than in the case of Woodman. In the series Artist and Her Model (4) some of the nudity resembles representations of classical paintings (see for instance Nudo Fiorentino), while in Artist at Work (5), nudism has a straight raison d’être as Brotherus plays the role of a model for portraiture. In other instances, Brotherous nudism feels like an attempt to signify intimacy, innocence or purity (see for instance here and here), but unlike Woodman, which nudism felt very natural and uncontrived, Brotherus seems at places awkward with it and in many of the images she is just facing in the other direction, as if she was trying to scape from a situation she created herself, from her own trap.

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(1) Elina Brotherus. 2018. Photography — Elina Brotherus. [ONLINE] Available at: https://elina-brotherus.squarespace.com/photography/#/annonciation/. [Accessed 27 January 2018].

(2) Elina Brotherus. 2018. Photography — Elina Brotherus. [ONLINE] Available at: https://elina-brotherus.squarespace.com/photography/#/carpe-fucking-diem/. [Accessed 27 January 2018].

(3) The Guardian. 2018. Gillian Wearing takeover: behind the mask – the Self Portraits | Art and design | The Guardian. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2012/mar/27/gillian-wearing-takeover-mask. [Accessed 27 January 2018].

(4) Elina Brotherus. 2018. Photography — Elina Brotherus. [ONLINE] Available at: https://elina-brotherus.squarespace.com/photography/#/artist-and-her-model/. [Accessed 28 January 2018].

(5) Elina Brotherus. 2018. Photography — Elina Brotherus. [ONLINE] Available at: https://elina-brotherus.squarespace.com/photography/#/artists-at-work/. [Accessed 28 January 2018].

 

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