I am interested in exploring distortion of the human body. As a society, we are very conditioned as far as what we expect to see when it comes to the body portrayed in images. I’m referring not only to issues of weight and beauty, but also of the physical capabilities of the body. Any image that contains a figure draws a certain connection and response from the viewer, and when the body is portrayed in strange ways, the reaction becomes even stronger. This can be seen in the work of Andre Kertesz, one of the earliest photographers to distort the human body to such an extent that only small parts of it were still recognizable. The strange disconnect that occurs as a result places the viewer in a sort of limbo between relating to the body seen and knowing something is not right. Rather than using blatant post processing to change the reality of what the body can do, I plan to work with contortionists who defy the commonly accepted belief of what the body can do. I want to photograph these contorted figures in everyday situations, pushing the ability of the viewer to relate, but these figures will be doing everyday things with bodies bent in ways that will make the viewer say, “This can’t possibly be real”. I want to make the viewer question how much of what they are seeing is actually possible, and explore how displaying a human body to a person who cannot replicate its position affects said person’s ability to accept it as real. I would like to present my images as large prints to really confront my viewers with these irregularities.
When I began to consider the current cultural obsession with making images that appear to be aged, it immediately reminded me of Frederic Jameson’s writings on “Nostalgia for the Present” from Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. What he and the like-minded Jean-Francois Lyotard have concluded is that the destruction of metanarratives inherent in postmodernism, history being one of these, has resulted in society’s ultimate disconnect with the past. We see movies and hear stories about the past, but all of these are merely a pastiche of what was. One cannot be nostalgic about something one has never known or experienced, so this leaves us in the postmodern era grasping at straws. Since the beginning of the era of the sci-fi film and projecting into the future ideas of scarcity, danger, and loss of structure, the future has always represented discomfort. Although we are disconnected from our past, the pastiche we embrace hearkens back to security, bounty, and happiness. The way we try to reclaim this comfort is by drawing elements from these times of comfort into our present. I think that this affection for the faux-aged photo belongs to the category of attempting to reclaim a past that is no longer ours.
A topic that I have become interested in throughout the course of the semester is the perception of women, and how that perception has changed over time. I began to look at this concept with my portraits, and chose to explore this idea further. My most intriguing discovery this semester were my composite images, where I used automated Photoshop features in unintended ways to create composites of my classmates’ images. This technique was extremely exciting and fruitful for me, so I knew I wanted to find a way to combine the subject matter of female perception with the techniques of my Content-Aware Hijacking. I found my solution by creating composite images of “the old ideal”, the pinup girl, and “the new reality”, the everyday woman.
The subjects in my photos are average, Pennsylvania residents of ages from 20-60, spanning the spectrum of womanhood. They are single, married, divorced, and widowed. They all come from different ethnic backgrounds and are of different races. Some are slim, some are full-figured, some confident, and others shy. Most were cooperative, while others “ain’t got time for this (expletive)”. But all twelve women shared one quality that their pinup counterparts blatantly lack—they are real.
I chose to pair the women with images of pinup girls because I began to find that in each image, this pairing had a slightly different effect. In certain images, the models seemed to be channeling the sex appeal and confidence of the pinup girl. In others, the models appeared to be disapproving of the pinup girl’s disregard for decency. Each conversation brought new dimensions to the project that went beyond my original intent of just comparing ideal to ordinary.
The purpose of this assignment is to remind my viewer’s that although we may never be as flawless, prim, skinny, or well-endowed as the imaginary women idealized by generations, we are always one step ahead—we are real, and we possess dimension where these paintings fall flat.
Elevator version: This collection of composites explores issues related to the ideal woman versus the real woman by juxtaposing portraits with pinup paintings. I aim to remind the viewer that ideal does not always win.
One factor is universal to all man-made landscapes: they are ever-changing. The cyclical process of human modification relies on development and decay, and even the foundations we cling to for stability in our forged environments (our homes, streets, and towns) will one day lie vacant and lifeless as they fall victim to the deadly-quick pace of human sprawl.