Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Post 9: Reactions to Brunner's and Witkin's imagery.

I did not really think about this until yesterday, but someone recently made me realize that there IS a slight connection between Witkin’s photography work and my own after all. Even if the connection only lasted one semester, it is still a connection. Spring semester 2010. I was taking Photo II: Alternative Processes with Wanda Pearcy. We were required to complete a cyanotype project based around 3 major components:

1. Something that you never photographed before.
2. Something that you are in awe of.
3. Something that you are scared of.

Before she went on and talked more about the components, I immediately knew what I wanted to accomplish for this project. Since high school, I never wanted to be in front of the camera. I hated my body image. To this day, I still do, but each day I lean more towards the self-acceptance stage, even though each day is a struggle. In high school, I became addicted to the idea of being behind the camera instead.

I never photographed myself before, and you would think as an artist, I would have, but I have not, up until the project. I am in awe of myself because I am still able to walk and be slightly active even though I am morbidly obese. I am also terrified of myself, because my obesity holds me back on so many levels, and I am also terrified for my own health.

We had to base our project around another photographer, so I picked Witkin because I was able to accomplish some tiny research about him, and I wanted the images to have a lasting effect on the viewer.

Before we took a nosedive into the project, I was required to present a power point presentation--in front of the entire class--with 10 (starter) photographs that I took for my project, 10 photographs of Witkin’s, and the connection between them. I did not know that I had the ability and strength to accomplish that, but I did. To stand in front of everyone, to show them images of myself not only nude, but also showing a powerless struggle of my own obesity battle, was an enlightening experience for me.

As the semester went on, so did the visual critiques, and with each passing critique, it became easier for me. For the final critique, everyone was able to view the completed work pinned on the wall. After viewing each other’s work, we then talked about how we felt. The connections that my classmates had when they looked at my images are similar to the emotional reactions that I have read from the general public about from looking at Witkin’s photography work.

Some of my classmates appreciated what I created, some classmates were horrified, and some were shocked. Some stated that it was very hard for them to look at my images because they thought of them as taboo. They grew up in households where nudity, bondage etc, were off limits, or was not talked about. Those classmates still looked at the images, even if they did not want to.

Why is it that humans avert their eyes when they are confronted with imagery that makes them uncomfortable, but yet they still look the second, third time etc, even if the images are not about death?

"Awareness of mortality is the dark side of self-consciousness, of not being a dumb animal. As far as we know, we are the only species that knows and understands the reality of death years before it happens. Some animals never seem to understand death, even as the predator pounces or the butcher’s blade is poised for the kill. Other of our animal siblings do seem to experience a kind of terror just prior to the mortal blow. We, on the other hand, are a species who must live with that furious terror within us, now simmering, now boiling, from that time in early childhood when we master the use of the linguistic first person until the day the death angel calls.”

According to Daniel Liechty, who wrote Reaction to Mortality: An Interdisciplinary Organizing Principle for the Human Sciences, we must be terrified of death. We never know when it is going to hit us in the face, and as humans we must live with knowing that death is hanging onto us like a backpack.

Why is it that humans are so terrified of death? We all know it is going to happen whether we like it or not. People would be more accepting of death when they realize that it is a part of life, but instead, we fear death because it is unexplained. We do not know where we are headed after death.

People have a natural instinct to look away at imagery that may contain nudity, violence, human sexuality, deformity, death etc, and Witkin combines all of that into one single image; no wonder the imagery speaks on so many different levels. “Those are subjects we fear, but are forced to live with everyday,” according to Erin Forstner who made a Livejournal comment on my online focus group.

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  1. I'm moved by your writing and your photos. You're a true artist and writer, and I admire your work. I would think that many others would admire your photographs as well. I find your discussion on looking away (from Witkin's work, etc.) interesting. I'm not sure I entirely agree with your artist/pervert categorizing, since I think it's possible to be uncomfortable and even disturbed without looking away... and without being a pervert. Perhaps it takes a certain maturity? Thanks again for sharing... I think you'll be able to use a blog such as this to continue to share your work, etc. Exciting!

  2. WHOA, these are crazy photos. I wish I would have seen these in the student show. Disturbing, no doubt, but they also have this aura of mechanical instability. Maybe that's the affect that bondage has on the body. I would highly suggest reading some stuff from Gilles Deleuze's book called "Francis Bacon." It is obviously all about the painter Francis Bacon, but it is based in French art theory. It is VERY interesting. Bacon dealt with very complex themes of the figure and the AFFECT on the figure. I think a lot of it has to do with the brutality of painting (but it applies to other treatments of the body like photography) and how this brutality is carried out in the process of representation. I see a clear line between that and this work I am looking at now. It is not necessarily a literal brutality, but a brutality in the treatment, if that makes any sense. Bacon was also extremely obsessed with photography, or rather, obsessed with his hatred of photography. Let me know if I can expound (!) further. I have check out the book I am speaking of from the UMD library many times, so i know its there.

  3. The strength it takes for an artist to go deep inside themselves and find the courage to create, to learn, to understand, their fears is something not many could do. I see the connection between your project and Joel Peter-Witkin's work, yet after reading his replies to your first set of questions and seeing some of his photographs, I feel as though he is all about the shock factor. You, on the other hand, are all about the growth and beauty that makes art so great in the first place.

    Joel Peter-Witkin may be a genius. Or he may be a creep with a camera and a know-how of the dark room. Either way I believe you have so much more heart than him. Keep it up!