Tag Archives: photography

Link Dump: #80

The kitties for this week’s 80th Link Dump are from notoriously kitty-friendly auteur Chris Marker and his short film La Jetée, which I wrote about yesterday. They’re lying on a blanket! So cute and comfy. And now, an abundance of links…

Recent search terms that amuse me include “self photo fail, dildo,” “last minut pusst,” and of course “سكس,” is Arabic for “sex.”

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Demons and disability in Jacob’s Ladder

Not long ago, I wrote a piece about Adrian Lyne’s nightmarish horror movie Jacob’s Ladder (1990), starring Tim Robbins. I thought, and continue to think, that it’s an uneven movie whose meandering, occasionally saccharine plot threads are balanced out by all of the shocking, phantasmagoric imagery. Well, imagine my surprise when I was paging through a book of photographs in my American Studies class the other day, and happened across the inspiration for one of the most unforgettable images in all of Jacob’s Ladder!

Some background: this class is called “Extraordinary Bodies in American Culture,” and we were examining the photography of Diane Arbus and Joel-Peter Witkin in relation to early 20th century freak shows. The photograph in question is Witkin’s Indulgences Man with No Legs from 1976, collected in Gods of Earth and Heaven. You can see more of Witkin’s work in this blog or this official gallery, but be warned: it’s very, very NSFW, and contains distorted, sexualized, and grotesquely posed images of disabled people and corpses.

Sexualizing and distorting human bodies was pretty much Witkin’s stock-in-trade. It’s easy, therefore, to see why he was such a major influence on Ladder‘s hyperkinetic demons. Although much of his work was done within the past 30-40 years, it’s often so grainy, blurry, and scratched-up that it looks older – as if consigned to some ahistorical netherworld. He casually mixes costumes, gestures, and backdrops in his photographs to evoke disparate sectors of life: a single Witkin photo can suggest BDSM practices, police brutality, Renaissance paintings, carnival sideshows, archaic medical technology, and more.

Certainly Indulgences conjures up numerous eras and activities with its ambiguous, faceless subject. It also raises countless questions, starting with “Why is his face covered?” When coupled with the raised, boxlike structure he’s sitting on, it reminds me of kidnappings – an uncomfortable association, and probably one that Witkin’s aiming for. It’s also very dehumanizing, and this is a consistent feature of Witkin’s work: his disabled subjects are invariably masked, veiled, or facing away from the camera. It feels like Witkin uses disability to facilitate an otherworldly atmosphere.

As much as I respect the bold, confrontational spirit of his artistry, I find this manipulation of human bodies extremely problematic. It’s especially revealing to look at Jacob’s Ladder, where similar distortion effects are used in conjunction with rapid-fire editing in order to code disability and facelessness as hellish and frightening. This intersection of popular cinema with very marginal photography could prove a useful avenue for further research into the relationship between disability and horror; till then, I think I’ll try to not look at Witkin’s shudder-inducing photographs.

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Link Dump: #3

[Via Esteemed.]

Welcome to the mid-August edition of the somewhat-weekly-but-not-really Pussy Goes Grrr Link Dump! Since I’m here in PA with Ashley, new posts may be more frequent. Or less frequent. Guess you’ll just have to keep reading and find out! We’ve been trawling high and low on the Internet lately, finding it to be equal parts enlightening and infuriating. So here’s some of the best of that.

  • Our mutual friend Rebekah has recently been sharing her ultra-zeal for McSweeney’s Panorama, which holds a little bit of everything amazing from the world of cosmopolitan comics & short fiction. Check it out. She also met character actor James Cromwell this morning. Go her!
  • Since I go to a college that self-identifies as “quirky,” I was instantly drawn to this great, in-depth essay on “the quirky” in contemporary indie films, from Charlie Kaufman to Diablo Cody to Wes Anderson and beyond, located at Notes on metamodernism. (For an unabridged version of the essay in .pdf form, see here.)
  • The AV Club’s Tasha Robinson wrote a hilarious (and strangely revealing) Commentary Tracks of the Damned column about Troy Duffy and The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day. If you’ve ever wanted to learn first-hand about the misogyny of a scuzzy Bostonian filmmaker, here’s your chance.
  • While many of Armond White’s recent film reviews have contained just the right proportion of nonsense and pretentiousness, his take on Adam Sandler’s Grown Ups might be the best. My favorite line: “One ploy of Sandler and Fred Wolf’s screenplay is to democratize humor—spread affectionate derision all around—by repeating jokes that grow into an appreciation of our full humanity.” But it’s all golden.
  • Want to talk about when you realized part of your identity? Then send in a submission for Happy Bodies’ “When did you know…?” series!
  • Finally, Ashley discovered [via thoudostwish] this awesome Russian photography project, which includes some pin-up-style images like a tribute to Bride of Frankenstein.

Ashley says:

Here’s this week’s collection of the scariest/funniest/weirdest search terms that have led people to our blog. Having the word ‘pussy’ in your blog title really brings out the creeps.

  • “pussy ripped apart gore” and “women rape and murdered”
  • “oskar sees elis pussy”-for those that don’t know, Eli from Let the Right One In does not have a pussy.
  • “play mulan disney princess sex fuck game” and “fairy fucks the beast while bell watches””
  • “sheep’s vagina resembles a woman’s”
  • “sister using barbie doll to masterbate”
  • “fucked up pussy she died”

What the fuck is wrong with you, Internet surfers?

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One Hour Mark: Blowup

Understanding Antonioni has always been difficult for me. So maybe I can get some insights into his style by pondering this image from 1:00:00 into his 1966 masterpiece Blowup. As in most Antonioni films, the plot is incidental: an unnamed photographer (David Hemmings) goes about his life – spending the night with bums, buying a propeller, aggressively shooting models, etc. During a jaunt in the park with his camera, he snaps several photos of a couple enjoying themselves. However, the images he captures contain more than initially meets the eye. What, exactly, do they contain? It’s never made clear. Possibly a corpse, possibly nothing, and in the end the photographer metaphorically contents himself with illusions. [Ashley reminds me that, on the more literal side, he does go and see the corpse in the park. But soon after, it’s gone, and the questions resurface.]

This may all sound extremely self-referential, since it’s a film about the nature of images, and it is. As Wikipedia puts it, Antonioni was an “Italian modernist film director,” and you pretty much have to understand his work within the context of cinematic modernism. In his films, characters aren’t just uncertain of what the truth is; they’re also unsure whether there is truth in the first place. (And the kinds of truth he addresses are manifold: aesthetic, epistemological, social, religious, moral, sexual, etc.) For example, in his first real hit, L’avventura (1960), a woman goes missing on an island. Her family and friends look for her, can’t find her, and eventually give up. Her best friend and boyfriend have an affair out of nothing so much as uncertainty.

That’s the sort of structure Antonioni’s movies have. The surface questions most movies would go after – where’s the woman? Why is there a dead body? – are abandoned because answering them, Antonioni seems to say, won’t really solve anything. The real questions are much harder, and the films get at them not through dialogue or narrative but visual style. With that in mind, let’s turn to this image from Blowup, which is actually the photographer about to blow up an image. He’s just had an encounter with the woman from the photos (Vanessa Redgrave), who wanted the negatives, and now he’s driven to look closer at the photo’s he’s taken. This little action says so much when framed within the wider film.

The title, after all, is Blowup. It’s a curious phrase, especially since it can refer to an explosion or to the creation of something larger. There’s also an implication that, since the film is superficially a mystery, blowing up a photo is a method for reaching a deeper truth. Photographs are supposedly objective reproductions of the physical world, so to look closer is to gain new insight into the world itself. To solve the mystery. (Cf. Bazin’s “The Ontology of the Photographic Image.”) But scene after scene, Antonioni undermines all of these assumptions, throwing the photographer out into a modern wasteland of subjectivity.

A lot of the photographer’s artistic hubris is present in this particular image. He thinks that with his technology and his grid, he can master and map out reality. But Antonioni shows that reality is much more slippery than he thought. Ironically, with the way he’s framed here, the photographer himself is one who’s been mapped out. In a film that frequently equates the photographer’s camera with sexual power, this is possibly an indication that now he’s the one who’s been fucked. I’m still not sure how highly I personally regard Antonioni’s work, especially since it’s full of unlikeable, emotionally distant characters. But he was definitely a master at incorporating his ideas into every frame of his films, both in form and content.

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