Thursday, February 17, 2011

Just This One Set Of Eyes

I spent a while yesterday thinking about Collier Schorr's photography- then having dinner time conversation about it later on. There are aspects of her work that I'm not that sure of - mainly using the framework of essentialist understanding of gender and the fact that I tend to have a hard time personally getting into photography as an art form since it seems to always be a narrative thing and doesn't mess with the material or form as much.

Okay anyway though, that's just me being annoying, cause there is also something that I like so much about her photos. I think that one way she does interact with the medium is that there is such emphasis put on the moment when she is taking the photo- how she can only see the subject with her own eyes, and the subject can only portray themselves with their own understanding of self - but how the viewer and subject do influence each other. The way that she plays with identity not just in gender but in nationality and religion becomes more complicated than the initial expectation - such as her work as a Jewish woman photographing Germans.

One of the strongest aspects of her work is that she is able to photograph androgyny and sexuality in both genders in a way that I don't think anyone else can. Her statements about how she can only look with female eyes are so interesting to me because her portraits of men - specifically the ones based off the Wyeth photos are so attractive and sexual in a way that recalls nostalgic pangs of first boyfriends or the photos of Leo Dicaprio that were so all consuming when I was in 7th grade. This is most interesting to me because I think that the male body represented in art has so often belonged to gay men and most of the time I can't relate to it at all - yet these photos by a lesbian woman make me wonder if there is something to this idea of a female gaze. In addition, though many of her photos of women were done for commercial projects, such as magazines, these also feel equally sexual. Her representation of the model Freja or actress Kristen Stewart manage to be erotic in a way that still feels like its meant for female eyes - gay, straight, or somewhere in between. Maybe they're attractive to men too, I'm not sure. Whether in portraying men or women, Schorr manages to convey androgyny in a way that is for once warm. She removes the android from androgyny and in finding what is soft in men and hard in women she plays on our sexualities' interest in power and submission but also that feeling of intimacy that comes from accepting what is unconventional in our lovers.

Below are photos from a series of German Soldiers, a series re-creating Andrew Wyeth's Helga, commercial fashion photos, and newer photos of still lives with flowers and landscapes. I think in the most recent flower series she takes the medium to a new level, abandoning narrative and using the medium itself to explore identity.

Objectification has usually been a male mainstay. Homosociality is, without a doubt, present in any project that involves itself in a male dominated arena, such as sports or the military. However, it may be that some gay male critics have become too comfortable in the idea that male sexuality, or men being caught in the gaze, is the property of male homosexuality. That type of "ownership" allows that women don't look at men and that when men appear a certain way it is a performance for other men. It's just another way that women's desire is undermined. This does give me pause, not in image making as much in the editing process afterwards. The struggle is how to represent men in a more fully defined way -- i.e., tenderness, vulnerability, physicality -- without falling into the trap of an assumed gay male gaze. In a way you have to search for varieties of ugliness, to almost de-aesthetify the image, to try and divest it of iconic perfections, all the while making pictures where the camera seems to fall in love.
-Collier Schorr

"In the Helga pictures I set out to create a total portrait of a young man using Andrew Wyeth's Helga paintings as a template to explore how one defines someone in images using a description of femininity to describe a man, so that you start to wonder with the Wyeth portraits whether it is a feminine pose or an artist's pose. Is it Wyeth's pose, is it Helga's pose?"
- Collier Schorr

"Having a boy play a girl (and when I say "play a girl" I don't mean that he is represented as a girl, because he is represented as a young man) is complicated. He knows he's looking at photographs of a girl and copying those poses. So the audience sees him as a man, but he can only see himself as a woman, because that's the model he's looking at. It was a really interesting exchange."
- Collier Schorr

"The work is about conflicting obsessions- twinship and opposition. It's about people who look the same but aren't, about boys that look like girls or girls that look like boys, or boys that look like athletes and aren't, or boys that look like soldiers and aren't. It's a metaphor for the Jew and the German- German Jews thinking they were the same as Germans and yet being so different..."
- Collier Schorr

"The landscape is filled with relics and memories. So many things are buried in the landscape in Germany. So many uniforms and medals. And you hear stories of people coming upon buttons and helmets in the fields."
- Collier Schorr

"The first soldier pictures I took were of Herbert and his friends. They all collected army stuff and they would go on campouts, play army, and raid each other's bunks. I was really surprised to find that all the army stuff was American and that they were dressing up as Americans, in a territory that was in fact occupied by American soldiers."
- Collier Schorr

"Some people fit into uniforms and are soldiers; some people don't fit into uniforms and aren't soldiers. Some pretend to be soldiers. I wanted to show that political causes change but soldiering is consistent. It's about putting young guys in scary places, asking them to die for someone else, to die for a cause they might not understand."
- Collier Schorr

"The androgynous part of the work comes from the fact that I can only imagine with a girl's brain. I'm creating a boy's world from the emotional center of a woman. Whenever they look soft it's because I don't really know what it is to be a guy. I only know what it is to be a girl. So I think that paints them with androgyny."
- Collier Schorr

Quite in the same way that the portraits were realized. Using a landscape to heighten the sense of drama. I looked at a lot of Mapplethorpe pictures in the last years and I was really drawn to the bondage pictures and wanted to bring that kind of tension and domination to a still life. That was the idea behind tying up the flowers, so they were elevated and trapped simultaneously. The nature becomes staged and I think I was always so aware of the forests and fields as being the locus of some theater, the military theater was only one possibility. It is also the theater of escape, migration and gentrification.
- Collier Schorr

1 comment:

diego Ferrari said...

Many thanks for your thoughtful views on the work of Collier Schorr. It has helped me on the research I’m doing on Fashion and the human body. Many thanks – I wish you a fruitful view.